This period was called the “Great Moderation.” While real GDP growth was substantially slower than during the thirty-year postwar boom, there were fewer sharp booms and recessions, mostly because the Fed no longer induced recessions deliberately. But there were a few more features of this new, more moderate economy that policy elites didn’t fully appreciate right away. The first was that income inequality began to take off. Starting in the ’80s, productivity gains were no longer shared with workers. Therefore, the wage share of the economy began to decrease. As a percentage of total output, wages have fallen from a high of almost 52 percent around 1970 to less than 43 percent today (see Graph 1). Meanwhile, inequality within wages also increased. The upshot? The rich began capturing nearly all the results of economic growth—the top 1 percent’s share of national income increased from about 8 percent in the mid-’70s to about 23 percent today.
Handing the reins to the Fed is a good idea for another reason: it would give the Fed a policy tool that shares the fine-tuning properties of the interest rate mechanism, but without the constraint of the zero lower bound and the tendency to create skyrocketing household debt. When the economy is running hot, threatening inflation, the Fed could slow deposits to a trickle (or raise rates), but when recession strikes, it could speed them back up again, quickly and easily. After all, in order for macroeconomic stabilization policy to work, it must be adjusted frequently and quickly—especially in the computer age, when recessions can gather force with astonishing speed.

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The third policy option is known as nominal gross domestic product targeting, the major proponent of which is the economist Scott Sumner. The idea is all about self-fulfilling expectations. Recall that the central bank owns the printing press, so it can create arbitrary quantities of dollars. By making a pre-commitment to keep the economy on a particular spending trajectory, self-fulfilling collapses in spending would not happen. Something similar to this policy seems to have kept Australia and Israel out of the Great Recession. But in order to sustain such a policy, the Fed might have to intervene in the economy quite frequently, and then the distributional consequences could be serious. Quantitative easing, for example, helps push up asset prices (the stock market has regained all the ground lost since 2009 and then some), which disproportionately benefits the wealthy. Free Money Machine