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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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
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