The Fed’s capabilities to engineer changes in economic growth and inflation are asymmetric. It has been historically documented that central bank tools are well suited to fight excess demand and rampant inflation. The Fed showed great resolve in containing the fast price increases in the aftermath of World Wars I and II and the Korean War. Later, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, rampant inflation was brought under control by a determined and persistent Federal Reserve.
However, when an economy is excessively over-indebted and disinflationary factors have forced central banks to make overnight interest rates as close to zero as possible, central bank policy has repeatedly proved powerless to further move inflation or growth metrics. The periods between 1927 and 1939 in the U.S. (and elsewhere) and from 1989 to the present in Japan are clear examples of the impotence of central bank policy actions during periods of over-indebtedness.
Four considerations suggest the Fed will continue to be unsuccessful in engineering stronger growth and higher inflation with their continuation of the current program of Large Scale Asset Purchases (LSAP). First, the Fed’s forecasts have consistently been overly optimistic, indicating that their knowledge of how LSAP operates is flawed. LSAP obviously is not working in the way they had hoped, and they are unable to make needed course corrections. Second, debt levels in the U.S. are so excessive that monetary policy’s traditional transmission mechanism is defunct. Third, recent scholarly studies, all employing different rigorous analytical methods, indicate LSAP is ineffective.Fourth, declining velocity deprives the Fed of the ability to have a measurable influence on aggregate economic activity and is an alternative way of confirming the validity of the aforementioned academic studies.