Monday, September 14, 2009

To The Federal Reserve: Start Raising Interest Rates

The Federal Reserve should have set its "federal funds" rate at 0.25% at its last meeting. Unless there is a marked reversal in the economy, it should raise the rate to 1% in steps.

Confidence in the Federal Reserve is near zero at this point. We have had two major asset bubbles in less than a decade. While there were other reasons for the bubbles, the main reason the bubbles grew to catastrophic proportions was the failure of the Federal Reserve to raise rates quickly in response to the bubbles. True, there should have been better oversight of the mortgage industry and the derivatives based on it. But when an economy as a whole inflates unreasonably, it is the money supply and interest rates that need to be controlled.

The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve current policy is to "maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent." [See August 12, 2009 Federal Reserve meeting release]

One of the causes of the crash of 2008 was inadequate consumer savings. Because most consumers had little of no savings, when credit was reduced they had little or no ability to keep consuming.

Since the Fed lowered interest rates to deal with the crash it should have prevented, those who did save by putting deposits in CDs and saving accounts have been severly punished. True, they may be happy that they were not invested in stocks or speculating in real estate, but as time passes the punishment becomes more real. It must be particularly gauling to get a notice that you credit card interest rate has been raised to over 20% from the same bank at the same time your CD renewal rate is lowered to 0.5%.

There is something obviously corrupt, and diverging from free market pricing doctrines, when the Fed is lending to banks (at the discount rate) without charging interest, and the banks are turning around and charging over 20% interest to the citizens of the United State.

But if you can, forget about justice for a moment. Consider the economic implications of the Fed's current policy. Money costs nothing to those borrowing directly from the Fed. What are the chances that free money will be allocated in an economically efficient manner? Zero, the same as the interest rate.

The biggest problem, however, is that the Fed is signaling that it does not care about inflation. With global supplies of oil, grain, and other basic commodities likely to tighten quickly once the global economy starts expanding, the danger of inflation from commodities alone is high. In addition, the Federal deficit and debt are huge indicators of potential inflation.

It is unlikely that a Fed funds rate of 1% would derail a recovery, even if such a rate had been announced in August. Putting 1% gradually into place is no danger at all. The danger is that the Fed will, yet again, get behind the curve and then be forced to overreact. The even greater danger is that the Fed will get behind the curve and then fail to ever catch up without causing a crash, as happened in 1999 and 2007.

Even if the economic recover is gradual, there is no reason to have rates below 3% by the end of 2010. High interest rates reward savings. That is not just putting money in a savings account. That is thrift, doing things efficiently, doing without waste or luxury. High interest rates also punish borrowing, which is associated with economic inefficiency and waste.

You can let the Federal Reserve know what you think at Federal Reserve Feedback.

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