Do Grandmas Really Benefit From Bernanke's Monetary Moves?
By Staff News & Analysis - May 28, 2013

Bernanke hasn't thrown grandma under the bus … Is the Fed sticking it to the little guy by "punishing people who've done the right things"? It's certainly a common complaint, one that Bernanke hears nearly every time he entertains questions … Only 3% of Americans own any bonds outside their retirement account, but those who do, own a lot. The average (mean) holding was $804,000 in 2011 … So, Mr. Senator, spare me your pieties. – MarketWatch

Dominant Social Theme: The Fed is doing the right thing and the numbers prove it.

Free-Market Analysis: This article argues that the Federal Reserve is right to keep interest rates low because most people, even grandmas, don't draw much interest income. Thus, the effect on lowering mortgage payments far outweighs the lack of hefty interest for most US citizens.

But to us, this misses the point. One can argue that low interest rates are a good thing, but to do so means that one is endorsing the idea of economic meddling generally. The logic of this argument surely begins to break down quickly.

We know historically speaking – thanks in large part to revelations on the Internet – that Fed money printing created the Roaring Twenties and then helped set the stage for the Great Depression.

If one wants to justify money meddling, doesn't he or she have to include the Great Depression and today's Great Recession in the column of "consequences"?

Here's more from this elaborate defense of artificially low interest rates:

Listen to the folksy way Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee asked Bernanke about this at a hearing in February, with the clear implication that the ivory-tower eggheads at the Fed just can't understand regular folks — you know — the way a millionaire senator can: "I'm just wondering if you — if y'all talk at all in your meetings about the degrading effect that's having on our society and how it's basically punishing people who've done the right things and throwing seniors under the bus and others that have saved money. Do y'all ever talk about the longer-term degrading effect of these policies as we try to — you know — live for today?"

The argument is that the Fed is doing more harm than good by keeping rates so low. They argue that it doesn't help the economy if people are losing more on their passbook account than they are saving on their mortgage payment. At first glance, these complaints seem to have some merit. On balance, households save more than they borrow, which means that the household sector should be earning more interest than it is paying. But at further inspection, the complaint falls apart. It may be true that households in the aggregate are net savers, but that's like saying Bill Gates and I average out to be billionaires.

In truth, some families save a lot, but most save just a little. Most families have very little in financial assets that pay interest, and therefore they make very little money on interest. One percent of nothing still nothing. According to the Census Bureau's 2011 wealth survey, families earning between $50,000 and $99,999 a year had about $2,000 in interest-bearing accounts, such as savings accounts, CDs and money market funds, in financial institutions. That's the median value of those who had anything in the bank: Half the families had more (sometimes much more) and half had less. Lower mortgage rates are saving typical American families thousands of dollars a year.

This is really a strange argument, in our humble view, because it is so determinedly narrow. Low interest rates don't only have an impact on saving and spending. They also have an impact on the larger economy and on businesspeople who are fooled by cheap money into overexpanding their products and services.

This is simply no joke. In China, where officials have been revving the printing presses for three decades, there are supposedly 60 MILLION empty homes, and that includes whole empty cities and towering, unoccupied skyscrapers throughout the country.

Some make the argument that these cities and homes have been built to receive the additional impoverished farmers who have not yet benefited from the Chinese Miracle. But it would be our perspective that this is more likely a classic bubble scenario.

Make the money presses roar and tears follow. It's happened over and over in the West during this central banking era, and thus articles like this one obscure the larger facts about the debacle caused by printing too much money-from-nothing … a process that inevitably includes too-low interest rates.

Of course, central banking officials don't even know what a real interest rate is because not even the cleverest algorithm can figure it out. Only the market itself can set rates but you wouldn't know that from reading such screeds as this.

No, here we get a defense of low rates based on their lack of impact for middle class people and "grandmas." But one of the reasons Grandma has so little in her account is perhaps because she's lost so much elsewhere. Maybe she was thrown out of work or lost a great deal during equity's bad years in 2008-2009.

What is the point of an article like this? To defend central bank policies and specifically Ben Bernanke's handling of the Federal Reserve?

After Thoughts

Really, people know better now, don't they? Bernanke is certainly not popular despite his incredible printing campaign. Monetary meddling is terrible, as many know. To read such a narrow defense of its endless ruin is itself disturbing.

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