Ben Bernanke’s Dream World

BERKELEY – US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke is not regarded as an oracle in the way that his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, was before the financial crisis. But financial markets were glued to the speech he gave in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on August 26.  What they heard was a bit of a muddle.

First of all, Bernanke did not propose any further easing of monetary policy to support the stalled recovery – or, rather, the non-recovery. Second, he assured his listeners that “we expect a moderate recovery to continue and indeed to strengthen.” This is because “[h]ouseholds also have made some progress in repairing their balance sheets – saving more, borrowing less, and reducing their burdens of interest payments and debt.” Moreover, falling commodity prices will also “help increase household purchasing power.”

Finally, Bernanke claimed that “the growth fundamentals of the United States do not appear to have been permanently altered by the shocks of the past four years.”

Frankly, I do not understand how Bernanke can say any of these things right now. If he and the rest of the Federal Open Market Committee thought that the projected growth of nominal spending in the US was on an appropriate recovery path two months ago, they cannot believe that today. Two months of bad economic news, coupled with asset markets’ severe revaluations of the future – which also cause slower future growth, as falling asset prices lead firms to scale back investment – mean that a policy that was appropriate just 60 days ago is much too austere today.