Who Was Responsible for the Great Moderation

In The Atlantic, Virginia Postrel looks at what made the Great Moderation possible. The Federal Reserve thought it was them, and that was a big mistake:

In 2001, the Fed aggressively cut interest rates, driving them down much lower than its policies since the mid-1980s would have predicted. The goal was to stave off recession and avoid the kind of deflation that Japan had experienced in the 1990s. But the cuts backfired. Those excessively low rates set off a housing bubble and all the consequences that flowed from it. The peak of the boom, Stanford economist John B. Taylor estimates, saw about 250,000 more new housing starts a year than there would have been if the Fed had followed its old practices. (Similar patterns of low interest rates and housing bubbles also occurred in many European countries.)
To make matters worse, Taylor argues, once the financial crisis began in August 2007, policy makers and many Wall Street traders misdiagnosed the problem as a shortage of liquidity—something the Fed could address by making it easier for banks to borrow from the government. But the problem was really so-called counterparty risk: financial institutions couldn’t trust the securities they were buying from and selling to each other. To compensate for this risk, banks charged each other much higher interest rates.
“This was not a situation like the Great Depression where just printing money or providing liquidity was the solution; rather it was due to fundamental problems in the financial sector,” Taylor writes in a survey of his published research on the crisis. The only way to fix the problem is to clean up the banks’ balance sheets, bringing in more capital to make them stronger and marking down bad loans (reducing their principal amounts) to make them more trustworthy.

Posted by on March 31st, 2009 at 1:08 pm

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