And that turned out to have some awful side effects, since the rich disproportionately save their money rather than spend it. But they don’t save by piling up huge pyramids of cash like Scrooge McDuck, they “save” by buying financial assets—which means that most of the fruits of economic growth have been channeled into asset price increases, rather than consumer price inflation. That partly explains the tendency toward bubbles. All of the recessions since the start of the Great Moderation were caused by collapsing asset bubbles: the savings-and-loan crisis of the late ’80s, the dot-com stock bubble in the 2000s, and the housing bubble in 2007. But that’s not the worst of it. After the early ’80s, the Fed’s interest rate tool seemed to become progressively less effective. While it was working, they had to keep turning the Fed funds rate down and down and down again (see Graph 2).
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Why hasn’t the helicopter money option already been enacted? The main reason is simply that until very recently we thought we had cured chronic shortages of aggregate demand, so no one was really thinking about these issues. The other reason is that Congress has not yet gotten it together to pass a law allowing the Fed to cut checks to the American people. Federal Grant To Buy A Home
And it hasn’t just been theorizing. In 2008, George W. Bush and Nancy Pelosi engineered the tax rebate stimulus, in which everyone received a check in the mail—paid for, eventually, with fresh new money. Studies have found that this stimulus worked quite well; it was just overwhelmed by the Great Recession, and we only received checks once. Mill, Keynes, Friedman, and even Bernanke might argue that we should revive a similar stimulus again—only this time, on a much bigger scale, and on an ongoing basis.
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Why? Because the economy has evolved to a point where it is vulnerable to mild depressions. In fact, the one we’re in now could persist for decades, as similar conditions have in Japan and other countries. In order to avoid that slow, painful outcome, we need a policy that will jump-start our economy. After three straight years of political gridlock it’s clear that Congress is not going to provide the fiscal stimulus we need, and while the tools the Federal Reserve has at its disposal have helped, they’ve not done enough. If Congress could be persuaded to give the Fed a new tool, one that would let it distribute purchasing power to the broad mass of the population—to “drop money from helicopters,” so to speak—it might be enough to help us escape the nightmare of slow growth and persistent unemployment we’re in now. Federal Grant Recipient Database