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In Troubled Times, the Federal Reserve Must Work for Everyone

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Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future

From youtube.com/watch?v=afMA_v-I42I: The Federal Reserve
The Federal Reserve
(Image by YouTube)
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It's been a chaotic few days for the world's markets. Recent events do not paint the picture of a stable economy guided by rational minds. Instead, the world of global finance looks more like a playground in need of adult supervision.

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Like other nations, we have a central bank. What should the Federal Reserve do in troubled times? For that matter, what is the Fed's role in preventing troubled times from occurring in the first place?

Global Shock

It's true that many of the causes of the recent stock market turmoil are global, rather than domestic. But those distinctions are becoming less important in a world of unfettered capital flow. Regional markets, like regional ecosystems, are interconnected.

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Europe is struggling because of a misguided attachment to growth-killing austerity policies. Like Republicans in this country, Europe's leaders are focused on unwise government cost-cutting measures that hurt the overall economy.

China's superheated markets have experienced a sharp downturn, and its devaluing of the yuan is likely to affect American monetary policy. Many of the so-called "emerging markets" are in grave trouble, their problems exacerbated by an anticipated interest rate hike from the U.S. Fed.

Plunging crude oil prices are a major factor in the events of the last few days. But questions remain about the underlying forces affecting those prices. Demand is somewhat weaker, and Saudi officials are refusing to cut production. But there is still some debate about whether these and other well-reported factors are enough to explain the fact that the price of a barrel of oil is roughly half what it was just over a year ago, in June 2014.

American Turmoil

Talk of recovery here in the U.S. has been significantly dampened by events of the last several days. The now-interrupted stock market boom had been Exhibit A in the case for recovery.

Exhibit B was the ongoing drop in the official unemployment rate. There, too, signs of underlying weakness can be found. The labor force participation rate remains very low for people in their peak working years, as economist Elise Gould notes, and has only come back about halfway from pre-2008 levels. Jared Bernstein notes that pressure to raise wages, which one would also expect in a recovering job market, also remains weak.

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All this argues for a rational and coordinated policy, one in which the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government act together to restore a wounded economy. What would that look like?

It would not include raised interest rates -- something that nevertheless continues to be a topic of serious discussion. As Dean Baker points out, China's currency devaluation alone should have been enough to take that idea off the table. What's more, as Baker rightly notes, such a move would only make sense if the Fed "is worried that the U.S. economy was growing too quickly and creating too many jobs." That's a notion most Americans would probably reject as absurd. Most are not seeing their paychecks grow or their job opportunities multiply.

Anxiety about inflation, while all but omnipresent in some circles, is not a rational fear. A slow rise in prices (0.2 percent in the 12 months ending in July, as opposed to the Fed's recommended 2 percent per year) tells us that inflation is not exactly looming on the horizon.

Now what?

"Everything is going to be dictated by government policy," the chief investment officer of a well-known investment firm said this week. In that case, isn't it time for a national conversation about that policy?

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Host of 'The Breakdown,' Writer, and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

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