Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here’s a shock! A study claiming that the Federal Reserve’s historically unprecedented easy money policies have supercharged Wall Street (and the rich) and left Main Street (and the rest) in the dust! And it comes from Wall Street!

The debate over how the central bank’s zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) and quantitative easing bond-buying program (QE) has impacted inequality in America has been just as heated as the debate over how these decisions have impacted economic growth and the prospects for recreating real national prosperity.

The critics charge that easy money has greatly widened the rich-poor gap, largely by boosting incentives to buy and own stocks, and thereby fueling a long, powerful bull market that has overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy because they dominate stock ownership.

The mainstream Fed position was stated by Chair Janet Yellen at the September press conference following the decision to keep interest rates on hold:

“It is true that interest rates affect asset prices, but they have a complex effect through balance sheets, through liabilities and assets. To me, the main thing that an accommodative monetary policy does is put people back to work. And since income inequality is surely exacerbated by a high—having high unemployment and a weak job market that has the most profound negative effects on the most vulnerable individuals, to me, putting people back to work and seeing a strengthening of the labor market that has a disproportionately favorable effect on vulnerable portions of our population, that’s not something that increases income inequality.”

Her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, has made similar points, albeit with more reservations.

A new study from Bank of America, however, contains some data strongly indicating that the Fed’s critics deserve to win this clash hands down. For example, the B of A researchers examined the fate of various possible uses of $100 since the Fed began massively supporting the U.S. economy after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the fall of 2008. The main findings? A $100 dollar investment in a standard stock and bond portfolio during this time would have more than doubled in value. But a $100 dollar wage would be worth only 14 percent more.

The same methodology also reveals that the financial system is channeling much more credit to the wealthy than to the rest. Thus for every $100 they raised at the start of 2010, venture capital and private equity funds are now raising $275. But for every $100 of mortgage credit extended in America since then, just $61 is being loaned and accepted today. And prime real estate in the nation has appreciated in value more than ten times as much as all U.S. residential real estate.

These results (and others in the study) hardly end the debate over the Fed and inequality. Bernanke and Yellen still make powerful “counterfactual”-based arguments – i.e., claiming that as bad as the situation is now, it would be even worse had the central bank not acted so decisively. And B of A’s possible motives need to be noted. Generally speaking, the financial sector has been campaigning strongly for a Fed rate hike because rock bottom interest rates have greatly reduced the profitability of lending.  (In that respect, this report may not be such a shock.)

But the B of A study should greatly increase the burden on the Fed to demonstrate that its monetary policies haven’t been little more than a boondoggle for the nation’s upper classes – not to mention a flop in and possibly an obstacle to restoring genuine economic health.

Advertisements