Quantitative Quicksand

The US Federal Reserve's expansionary monetary policy has failed to bolster demand and employment growth, while embedding inflation in America's future. Moreover, it has distracted attention from the real problems facing the US economy, which monetary policy is powerless to solve.

PITTSBURGH – Almost all recoveries from recession have included rapid employment growth – until now. Though advanced-country central banks have pursued expansionary monetary policy in the wake of the global economic crisis in an effort to boost demand, job creation has lagged. As a result, workers, increasingly convinced that they will be unable to find employment for a sustained period, are leaving the labor force in droves.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than in the United States, where the Federal Reserve has reduced interest rates to unprecedented levels and, through quantitative easing (QE), augmented bank reserves by purchasing financial assets. But inflation – which rapid money-supply expansion inevitably fuels – has so far remained subdued, at roughly 2%, because banks are not using their swelling reserves to expand credit and increase liquidity. While this is keeping price volatility in check, it is also hindering employment growth.

Rather than changing its approach, however, the Fed has responded to slow employment growth by launching additional rounds of QE. Apparently, its rationale is that if expanding reserves by more than $2 trillion has not produced the desired results, adding $85 billion more monthly – another $1 trillion this year – might do the trick.

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