Bernanke’s premonition

It was almost ominous. Writing in FP in 2000, Ben Bernanke imagined the next stock market crisis, and how true recession might be averted.  There’s no denying that a collapse in stock prices today would pose serious macroeconomic challenges for the United States. Consumer spending would slow, and the U.S. economy would become less of ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

It was almost ominous. Writing in FP in 2000, Ben Bernanke imagined the next stock market crisis, and how true recession might be averted. 

There's no denying that a collapse in stock prices today would pose serious macroeconomic challenges for the United States. Consumer spending would slow, and the U.S. economy would become less of a magnet for foreign investors. Economic growth, which in any case has recently been at unsustainable levels, would decline somewhat. History proves, however, that a smart central bank can protect the economy and the financial sector from the nastier side effects of a stock market collapse."

So, how would Bernanke stack up to his own expectations? According to the now Fed chairman's article, central banks must keep banks intact, credit flowing, and interest rates low. In Congress yesterday, Bernanke said this

It was almost ominous. Writing in FP in 2000, Ben Bernanke imagined the next stock market crisis, and how true recession might be averted. 

There’s no denying that a collapse in stock prices today would pose serious macroeconomic challenges for the United States. Consumer spending would slow, and the U.S. economy would become less of a magnet for foreign investors. Economic growth, which in any case has recently been at unsustainable levels, would decline somewhat. History proves, however, that a smart central bank can protect the economy and the financial sector from the nastier side effects of a stock market collapse."

So, how would Bernanke stack up to his own expectations? According to the now Fed chairman’s article, central banks must keep banks intact, credit flowing, and interest rates low. In Congress yesterday, Bernanke said this

Purchasing impaired assets will create liquidity and promote price discovery in the markets for these assets, while reducing investor uncertainty about the current value and prospects of financial institutions.  More generally, removing these assets from institutions’ balance sheets will help to restore confidence in our financial markets and enable banks and other institutions to raise capital and to expand credit to support economic growth."

Great. He passes. But could that be part of the problem?

I used Bernanke’s macroeconomics textbook in college, and learned that market ups and downs are natural. Did years of pushing those minor blips into the horizon — one liquidity injection or interest rate decrease at a time — cause today’s massive build up of bad? The housing bubble, for example, might have been encouraged to shrink before it got too big. Instead, all those bad loans have built up into the torrent of junk in need of a bailout today.

Weigh in on your thoughts in comments. In the meantime, I’m still hoping that the man who taught me macro was right in 2000:

If Wall Street crashes, does Main Street follow? Not necessarily."

See Also: Is It Time for the U.S. to Issue a Digital Dollar?

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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