The Fed’s Contradiction

The Fed’s Contradiction

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WSJ – Four years ago this month the Federal Reserve began its epic program of monetary easing to rescue an economy in recession. On Wednesday, Chairman Ben Bernanke declared that this has worked so well that the Fed must keep easing money for as long as anyone can predict in order to save a still-sputtering recovery.

That’s the contradiction at the heart of the Fed’s latest foray into “unconventional policy,” which is a euphemism for finding new ways to print money: The economy needs more monetary stimulus because it is still too weak despite four years of previous and historic amounts of monetary stimulus. In the words of the immortal “Saturday Night Live” skit: We need “more cowbell.”

In his press conference Wednesday, Mr. Bernanke was at pains to say this week’s decisions were nothing new, merely an implementation of the policy direction that the Fed’s Open Market Committee had set in September. This is technically true, but the timing and extent of the implementation are more than details.

The Fed committed Wednesday to purchase an additional $45 billion in long-term Treasury securities each month well into 2013, in addition to the $40 billion in mortgage assets it is already buying each month. At $85 billion a month, the Fed’s balance sheet will thus keep growing from its current $2.9 trillion, heading toward $4 trillion by the end of the year. Four years ago it was less than $1 trillion.

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