Thursday, February 28, 2013

The most popular dude in town...

As I suggested yesterday, Fed chair Ben Bernanke was blessed to be appointed when he was. Yes, occupying the chairman's seat during the greatest recession since the Great Depression is a dream come true for any economist who aspires to the public spotlight. Creating facilities for distributing newly created currency is, to such a person, like being the chef of the only restaurant in town experimenting with new recipes on hungry patrons---one doesn't worry about nutritional content when one's really hungry. And for sure the chef is the most popular dude in town.

Of course, as Bernanke knows, there'll come a day when the Fed has to lighten tighten up, when they'll have to close the kitchen and let nature take its course. The problem is nature---when we're talking the bond market---has been asleep (lulled by the Fed) since 2008, and if they don't nudge it with just the right pressure, at just the right time, in just the right spots, they could have a real mess on their hands: Bond yields could spike as investors flee en masse, sending lending rates through the roof and doing all kinds of strange and not so wonderful things to asset prices.

Now, to be fair, Mr. Bernanke says he's got it all under control. That the Fed can and will ease off the easy-money pedal at just the right time and at just the right pace. So let's hope he knows what he's talking about---and has the political will to pull it off. The problem for a Fed chair concerned with his reputation is, as James Buchanan and Richard Wagner pointed out in Democracy in Deficit:

The monetary decision maker may realize full well that there are "social" gains to be secured from adopting and holding firm against demand-increasing inflation-generating policies. But these general gains will not be translated into personal rewards that can be enjoyed by the decision maker as a consequence of his policy stance. "Easy money" is also "easy" for the monetary manager; "tight money" is extremely unpleasant for him.

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