Andy Laperriere explains that the federal government’s cheap money/low interest policies have very real costs, including the long term reduction of economic growth.
During the past three years, the Federal Reserve has tripled the size of its balance sheetâ€”in effect printing $2 trillionâ€”something it had never done in its nearly 100-year history. The Fed has lowered short-term interest rates to zero and signaled that it will keep them at that level for years. Inflation-adjusted short-term rates, or real rates, have been in the minus 2% range during the past couple of years for the first time since the 1970s.
The unfortunate fact is, as Milton Friedman famously observed, there is no free lunch. After the Fed’s loose monetary policy helped spur the boom-bust in housing, it’s remarkable how little attention has been devoted to exploring the costs of Fed policy.
A few critics of quantitative easing (QE) and the zero interest rate (ZIRP) have correctly pointed out that these policies weaken the dollar and thereby reduce the purchasing power of American paychecks. They increase the risk of future inflation, obscure the true cost of the unsustainable fiscal policy the federal government is running, and transfer wealth from savers to debtors.
But QE and ZIRP also reduce long-term economic growth by punishing savers, reducing saving and investment over the long run. They encourage the misallocation of resources that at a minimum is preventing the natural rebalancing of our economy and could sow the seeds of another painful boom-bust.
One intended effect of a loose monetary policy is a weaker dollar, which can help gross domestic product by boosting exports. But a weaker dollar also raises import prices (such as oil prices) for American consumers. For the average American family, this adverse impact has likely outweighed any positive impact from QE and ZIRP.