With apologies to the Bard:
To keep pumping $85 billion into the U.S. economy each month or not to keep pumping? That is the question for the Federal Reserve Board.
On Wednesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke gave an answer of sorts, saying that the massive bond-buyback program is on schedule to end by the middle of next year.
The stock market immediately went into a deep, two-day dive. A wide range of critics again slammed Chairman Bernanke. Even a member of a Federal Reserve committee joined the negative chorus.
Yet at some point, the Fed’s huge bond purchases must end. The process, in effect, prints more than $1 trillion a year that we don’t have. If it continues long enough, it puts our currency at severe risk.
And while Mr. Bernanke predictably triggered investor angst by saying the bond-buying spree won’t last, he also pointed out that the anticipated change was based on a strengthening economic recovery.
As the chairman put it: “The fundamentals look a little better to us.”
OK, so that’s not a ringing endorsement of the still-sluggish economy.
And unemployment, at 7.6 percent nationally last month, remains quite high — and would be even higher if millions of Americans hadn’t given up on finding work over the last five years.
St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard cited the weakness of the recovery in a statement released by his office Friday.
Mr. Bullard, one of two members of the Fed’s Open Market panel to oppose Mr. Bernanke’s announcement, “felt that the committee’s decision to authorize the chairman to lay out a more elaborate plan for reducing the pace of asset purchases was inappropriately timed.”
Again, though, how long can the Fed keep adding so much money to the economy before the results of that infusion become counterproductive?
Another tough question: If the historically low interest rates that the Fed has maintained for so long are so beneficial to the economy, why isn’t the economy doing better?
In fact, those near-zero interest rates threaten serious long-term damage to pension funds already in serious danger. And they diminish the incentive for personal savings.
Like it or not, when money is too cheap for too long, somebody eventually pays a painful price.
At least the stock market regained a level footing Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising 41 points after tumbling by more than 550 combined points over the previous two days.
And at least Chairman Bernanke recognizes that the continuing bond-buyback program is an unprecedented expense that can’t go on forever.