Sunday, October 7

"It's the asset prices, stupid"

In a good post titled 'Why Obama is Winning' Harold James points out that political strategist James Carville's famous "it's the economy, stupid" quip from the 1992 U.S. presidential election campaign has gained a new twist:
...the lesson about the economy’s electoral salience is being subtly reformulated. It is no longer the real state of the economy, but rather the perception of asset markets, that is crucial. And the perception can be far removed from reality, which means that the more the prevailing political wisdom assigns decisive electoral importance to the economy, the greater the temptation to view monetary policy’s impact on asset prices, and not on long-term growth, as crucial.
What James is basically saying is that people feel wealthier when asset prices - stocks, bonds, real estate, etc. - go up in value. This phenomenon -- the so called 'wealth effect' -- can make those who don't read The PolyCapitalist and the other recommended sites listed on the right side of this blog feel like the real, fundamental economy is doing better than it actually is. Or so the theory goes. 

Further, positive feelings about how the economy is trending due to rising asset prices can in turn drive higher consumer consumption and business investment, which in turn can increase GDP. At least in the short (and possibly) medium run.

For how long can this wealth effect ponzi-esque scheme go on? In other words, are programs like QE3 nothing more than an macroeconomic cheap trick?

No one knows for sure because, like much of modern macroeconomic theory, we are conducting a live, empirical test of the theory. And this test has arguably been running since at least 1987 (the year Alan Greenspan became Chairman of the Fed), if not 1971 (the year Nixon severed the U.S. Dollar's anchor to the price of gold).

What this means longer-term, according to James, is further politicization of the Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world:
Republicans will blame their defeat in November on the Fed’s monetary stimulus (if not on the ineffectiveness of Mitt Romney’s blunder-filled campaign). 
Meanwhile, in Europe, many national leaders, looking at Obama and the Fed, may conclude that they would do better with more direct control over the central bank. Given the difficulty of establishing such control over the European Central Bank, the euro’s next great challenge may be growing sentiment in favor of a return to national currencies.
In other words, expect central banks to remain in the politial bullseye following the 2012 U.S. and 2013 German elections, regardless of the their outcomes.

Will major reform be applied to central banks? For example, there has been open discussion of terms limits for the Federal Reserve Chairman.

Perhaps changes like term limits, greater Fed transparency, etc. are in the cards longer-term. But I am personally skeptical that any significant reforms will be enacted at the Federal Reserve prior to the end of the U.S. dollar's global hegemony.

1 comment:

  1. Letting things be politicized too much can be disastrous for any economy. All the red tape it will produce will make even the simplest business investments take much longer than they should.