Day By Day

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Schwartz Disses Greenspan

Anna Schwartz, one of the most important economic thinkers of the Twentieth Century, explains the current credit crunch and lays the blame squarely at Alan Greenspan's feet. She also takes a swipe at current Fed Head Bernanke, arguing that his response to the developing crisis has been dilatory and inadequate.
According to Schwartz the original sin of the Bernanke-Greenspan Fed was to hold rates at 1 per cent from 2003 to June 2004, long after the dotcom bubble was over. "It is clear that monetary policy was too accommodative. Rates of 1 per cent were bound to encourage all kinds of risky behaviour," says Schwartz.

She is scornful of Greenspan's campaign to clear his name by blaming the bubble on an Asian saving glut, which purportedly created stimulus beyond the control of the Fed by driving down global bond rates. "This attempt to exculpate himself is not convincing. The Fed failed to confront something that was evident. It can't be blamed on global events," she says.

That mistake is behind us now. The lesson of the 1930s is that swift action is needed once the credit system starts to implode: when banks hoard money, refusing to pass on funds. The Fed must tear up the rule-book. Yet it has been hesitant for three months, relying on lubricants - not shock therapy.

"Liquidity doesn't do anything in this situation. It cannot deal with the underlying fear that lots of firms are going bankrupt," she says. Her view is fast spreading. Goldman Sachs issued a full-recession alert on Wednesday, predicting rates of 2.5 per cent by the third quarter. "Ben Bernanke should be making stronger statements and then backing them up with decisive easing," says Jan Hatzius, the bank's US economist.

Bernanke did indeed switch tack on Thursday. "We stand ready to take substantive additional action as needed," he says, warning of a "fragile situation". It follows a surge in December unemployment from 4.7 per cent to 5 per cent, the sharpest spike in a quarter century. Inflation fears are subsiding fast.

Read it here.

Anna is a super-heavyweight; she literally wrote the book on monetary policy. If she says Alan Greenspan screwed up, I believe her.