The Fed Is Courting a Lethal Deflationary Recessionary Vortex

A Benjamin Cole post

There is something deeply askew about U.S. Federal Reserve policy statements and policies, and, indeed nearly the entire U.S. economics profession.

For example, a Richard Fisher (former Dallas Fed President and FOMC member), an Alan Meltzer or even a Martin Feldstein can go into sweat-drenched hysterics and predict hyperinflation holocausts, and be consistently wrong for years and years, yet still be VSPs.

But no one predicts lethal (to economic growth) deflationary recessionary vortices. I do. I guess if I am wrong for the next 10 years running—well, then I will still be a VUP (Very Unserious Person).

The Threat Is?

But yet, what is the threat today? Inflation or Prolonged Deflationary Recession?

Has Japan ever escaped its low-growth deflation? Can anyone speak confidently of Europe escaping its deflationary recession?

No recovery lasts forever. At current inflation and interest rates, a recession in the U.S. would surely result in deflation and zero lower bound all over again.

But the Fed has set aside QE, and shows no inclination of lowering interest on excess reserves. To go back to QE or eliminating IOER would mark a humiliating flip-flop on policies—and all the while the naysayers would be screaming, “QE didn’t work. See? We are in a recession again. Only tight money works.”

So the Fed will enter the next recession hamstrung, slow to respond to declining prices and recession (I mean ever slower than usual).


The above scenario perfectly sets up a lethal deflationary recessionary vortex, sucking down equities and property values, eviscerating U.S. savings and balance sheets, scaring off investment in plant and equipment. The Fed will be flat-footed while the economy tanks, and unemployment soars. Federal deficit spending will balloon again, resulting in calls for austerity.

Dudes, it will get ugly.

Instead of welcoming a deflationary recession, the Fed should immediately consider “normalization” of interest rates—on excess reserves, which normally earned no interest.

And if the Fed ever wants real interest rates to be “normalized”, i.e., higher than zero, then it has set help set up sustained and robust economic growth. A central bank cannot “normalize” interest rates through monetary suffocation.

In other words, print more money. Like I always say.

The politically correct term for depression: “new normal of slow growth”

That´s the takeaway from Matt Obrien´s “The recovery is stalling out again. Is the economy actually in … a recession?

It’s only mostly crazy. And even then, it depends on what you mean by “recession.” If you’re talking about the usual rule-of-thumb of two consecutive quarters of negative growth, then, yes, there’s probably a 5 percent chance that we’ve fallen into one. But if you mean an economic decline that actually makes unemployment go up, then, no, we don’t have to worry about the r-word.

We just have to worry about a new normal of slow growth that might dip into negative territory every now and then even during the good times. In other words, about turning Japanese.

New normal indeed! SF Fed president John Williams, for one, is “happy”:

 “I am very optimistic as to where the economy is going over the next couple of years,” Mr. Williams said. “We’ve gotten the national economy back to basically full strength,” he said, adding what is now a 5.5% jobless rate will likely move to 5% by year’s end.

How fast we have adapted!

Politically Correct Term for Depression