QE3, Operation Twist and Balderdash

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

–Juliet, from Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

Balderdash – A senseless jumble of words; nonsense, trash (spoken or written)

— Oxford English Dictionary 

The Federal Reserve is likely to take action today to “boost the economy.”  This is yet another attempt in a long line of failed efforts that not only won’t work, but will almost certainly make problems worse.

Whether they call it QE3 (quantitative easing, part III) or Operation Twist (named for the 1960’s dance and first tried during the Kennedy administration) or Glimdragbig (a word I just made up), it will feature the Fed toying with interest rates (most likely by creating money) in an attempt to get the economy “moving.”

The Fed may call it something other than what it is, but it will still smell.  They may use elaborate jargon (nonsense) to mask its true nature, but that won’t change the facts.

The Fed’s underlying premise is that free markets work…until they don’t.  Has the Fed ever correctly forecast when markets will stop working?  Of course not.  In fact, they are almost always too ebullient when they should be cautious, and overly worried when they should be upbeat. 

But, despite these consistent failures, they still pass judgment on markets and they supposedly know when markets have stopped working, and therefore when they should intervene to “get things going.” 

As Dr. Phil likes to say, “how’s that working for you?”

In case you haven’t noticed, economic growth is anemic at below 2%, and unemployment is high at over 9%.  And, this is after countless fiscal and monetary (and regulatory) interventions over the last 3 years.

Why aren’t interventions working?  Because the first part of the Fed’s premise is right: markets do work.  If you let people freely choose and act, and prevent them from initiating force against each other, they will–over time–rationally allocate capital and other resources to productive ends, thus resulting in real growth and higher employment. 

What the Fed has been doing is preventing this mechanism from working.  Interest rates are at the heart of any modern economy.  It’s the time value of money, and therefore drives economic choices at the most fundamental level.  If you screw with those rates, people will mis-allocate capital and the economy will stagnate or shrink.

Sound familiar?  If you need more empirical support, please see Japan over the last 20 years and America during the 1930’s as examples of interventions galore resulting in anemic growth, stagnation, or shrinkage (or the Soviet Union, or China under Mao, or North Korea, or Cuba, East Germany, Venezuela, you get the picture!).

Stock, bond, and commodity markets are likely to respond favorably to any Fed intervention–just like they always do (after all, everyone loves a party when someone else is paying).  The dollar is likely to sink (except perhaps relative to Europe, which is even more of a basket case than America) and gold is likely to rally.

That doesn’t mean the economy will grow, nor does it mean unemployment will shrink.  Once again, interventions are leading to greater and greater mis-allocations of capital and thus will cause slower growth than would otherwise occur. 

There is good news in all this, and that’s that much of the American economy is relatively free.  In such places, people are innovating, adapting, employing and growing.  As long as the bone-heads bureaucrats don’t intervene too much, such productive people will eventually create enough growth to overcome the negative effects of repeated intervention.

It may take time, though, so patience will be necessary.  In the meantime, lets all hope the interventionists will stop distorting markets so they can do their thing.  At that point, we’ll have an upward spiral to be truly optimistic about.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

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QE3, Operation Twist and Balderdash