Another investment strategist told the Wall Street Journal that today's challenges come at a time when "global central banks have exhausted almost all their tools ... It's difficult to see how central banks come in to support markets."
If they've exhausted all their commonly used tools, it may be time to develop new ones -- not to support "markets," but to promote jobs and growth for everyone.
First, do no harm. The Fed needs to hold off on any move to raise interest rates. But inaction is not enough. It was given a dual mandate by Congress: to stabilize prices and keep employment at reasonable levels.
Activist groups like the "Fed Up" coalition, led by the Center for Popular Democracy (and including the Campaign for America's Future), are working to move the Fed toward that second objective. They've been pushing to change its governing boards, which are heavily dominated by big banks and other major financial interests, and have called for policies that focus on improving the economic lives of most Americans.
Those policies could take a number of forms. One idea comes from Jeremy Corbyn, the populist politician who's on track to become the next leader of Great Britain's Labour Party. Corbyn's economic plan includes "quantitative easing for people instead of banks." Corbyn proposes to grow the financial sector in a targeted way, by giving the Bank of England (the UK's version of the Fed) a mandate to "invest in new large-scale housing, energy, transport and digital projects."
A headline on the website of the Financial Times says (with apparent surprise) that "Corbyn's "People's QE" could actually be a decent idea."
Corbyn also proposes to "strip out some of the huge tax reliefs and subsidies on offer to the corporate sector." The added revenue would go to "direct public investment," including the creation of a 'National Investment Bank' to "invest in the new infrastructure we need and in the hi-tech and innovative industries of the future."
Call it "qualitative," rather than "quantitative," easing. It would increase the money supply, but for money that is to be invested in the real-world economy -- the one that creates jobs, lifts wages, and creates broad economic growth.
Could something like Corbyn's plan ever happen here? There's no reason why not. The Federal Reserve wasn't created by bankers, nor is it there to serve bankers -- although a lot of people inside and outside the Fed act as if it were. (The choice of a former Goldman Sachs executive for its latest major appointment won't help change that.)
The Federal Reserve was created by the American people, through an act of Congress. Its governors and its policies are there to protect and serve the public. The Fed should use its oversight capabilities to ensure that banks don't behave in a reckless manner or help private funds and other unsupervised institutions to behave recklessly.
We are still paying the price for allowing big-money interests to dominate both lawmaking on Capitol Hill and monetary policy at the Federal Reserve. That must change. Congress and the Fed, acting together, should ensure that our nation's policies benefit the many who are in need of help, not the few who already have more than they need.
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