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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

April 26, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Ahead of the Bernanke press conference, questions and worries

I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s decision to hold a press conference after the two-day meeting of the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee wraps up Wednesday.

On the one hand, transparency is good. I wish we would have had a chance to question Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (and his predecessor Hank Paulson) when they were desperately improvising during the panic of the fall of 2008. I’d love to know, for example, what exactly are the $2 trillion in “assets” sitting on the books of the central bank? And, even if the Fed can turn on a dime to snuff out inflation, how can it do so without sending a fragile economy into a new recession? Why is the Fed allowing the TBTF banks and the shadow banking system to return to business-as-usual gambling on derivatives?

On the other hand, much of the media and most Americans are financially illiterate. It doesn’t take a Nobel in economics (or a Pulitzer Prize) to see how the press conference could degenerate into foolishness. Central banking is complicated and not suited for a nation intellectually accustomed to American Idol. Pulling back the curtain on the mystery behind Fed actions risks volatility and miscalculations by everyone from the Wall Street playerz to other central banks.

We’re sure to hear a slew of questions about the strength of the dollar, which has fallen 6.6 percent this year as measured against a basket of six other currencies. This without the context of the dollar’s swoon in much of the ’00s, or that a less-expensive dollar is good for U.S. exports. And the dreaded debt! Anything Bernanke says is sure to be politicized, further dragging a supposedly independent central bank deeper into the nasty divide of American political battles.

The press conference won’t answer the question of whether QE2 “worked.” Only history will do that. It certainly stopped the threat of deflation, which was the Fed’s chief concern from the Great Recession (and the mistake made by the early-1930s Federal Reserve which worsened the Great Depression). It pumped up the stock market and arguably became hot money that is sparking inflation abroad. Did it help Main Street, much less the millions still employed? No. But that’s beyond the ability of the central bank.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Welcome Michael Young

Will you be around awhile?

You’re kind of, well, old

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