Conservatives have a talking-point about the Federal Reserve printing money. The U.S. is (supposedly) continually printing money, running up debt and fanning the flames of inflation. This is debasing the dollar and leading us, in general, toward calamity.
But the real problem is unemployment and its effects on economic growth and, thus, debt reduction. We have a demand-side problem, not a supply-side problem. The longer we go leaving millions without work and wasting their potential, the more we hurt not only them but the entire economy.
"One of the themes I’ve hit on many times is the fact that the crisis and slump have been a testing ground for economic doctrines. People came into this mess with very different views about how the economy works, and the crisis in effect provided natural experiments that tested those views. Most notably, what we got was a test of demand-side versus supply-side stories about the nature of depressions. Demand-siders like me saw this as very much a slump caused by inadequate spending: thanks largely to the overhang of debt from the bubble years, aggregate demand fell, pushing us into a classic liquidity trap. But many people — some of them credentialed economists — insisted that it was actually some kind of supply shock instead. Either they had an Austrian story in which the economy’s productive capacity was undermined by bad investments in the boom, or they claimed that Obama’s high taxes and regulation had undermined the incentive to work (of course, Obama didn’t actually impose high taxes or onerous regulations, but leave that aside for now). How could you tell which story was right? One answer was to look at the behavior of interest rates; the other was to look at inflation. For if you believed a demand-side story, you would also believe that even a large monetary expansion would have little inflationary effect; if you believed a supply-side story, you would expect lots of inflation from too much money chasing a reduced supply of goods. And indeed, people on the right have been forecasting runaway inflation for years now. Yet the predicted inflation keeps not coming," notes Paul Krugman.
Krugman also states, "What’s wrong with the idea that running the printing presses is a giveaway to plutocrats? Let me count the ways. First, as Joe Wiesenthal and Mike Konczal both point out, the actual politics is utterly the reverse of what’s being claimed. Quantitative easing isn’t being imposed on an unwitting populace by financiers and rentiers; it’s being undertaken, to the extent that it is, over howls of protest from the financial industry. I mean, where are the editorials in the WSJ demanding that the Fed raise its inflation target? Beyond that, let’s talk about the economics. The naive (or deliberately misleading) version of Fed policy is the claim that Ben Bernanke is “giving money” to the banks. What it actually does, of course, is buy stuff, usually short-term government debt but nowadays sometimes other stuff. It’s not a gift. To claim that it’s effectively a gift you have to claim that the prices the Fed is paying are artificially high, or equivalently that interest rates are being pushed artificially low. And you do in fact see assertions to that effect all the time. But if you think about it for even a minute, that claim is truly bizarre. I mean, what is the un-artificial, or if you prefer, “natural” rate of interest? As it turns out, there is actually a standard definition of the natural rate of interest, coming from Wicksell, and it’s basically defined on a PPE basis (that’s for proof of the pudding is in the eating). Roughly, the natural rate of interest is the rate that would lead to stable inflation at more or less full employment. And we have low inflation with high unemployment, strongly suggesting that the natural rate of interest is below current levels, and that the key problem is the zero lower bound which keeps us from getting there. Under these circumstances, expansionary Fed policy isn’t some kind of giveway to the banks, it’s just an effort to give the economy what it needs. Furthermore, Fed efforts to do this probably tend on average to hurt, not help, bankers. Banks are largely in the business of borrowing short and lending long; anything that compresses the spread between short rates and long rates is likely to be bad for their profits. And the things the Fed is trying to do are in fact largely about compressing that spread, either by persuading investors that it will keep short rates at zero for a longer time or by going out and buying long-term assets. These are actions you would expect to make bankers angry, not happy — and that’s what has actually happened.
As Dean Baker explained, "In normal times, the economy is, at least partially, supply-constrained. Collectively, we want more goods and services than the economy is capable of producing.... In our demand-constrained economy, how- ever, there is no problem of inflation. The economy can produce more of almost anything right now. The reason that we are not doing it is simply the lack of demand."
Krugman elaborates, "Surely we don’t mean to identify money with pieces of green paper bearing portraits of dead presidents. Even Milton Friedman rejected that, more than half a century ago. For one thing, a lot of those pieces of green paper are pretty much inert — sitting outside the United States, in the hoards of drug dealers and such. For another, checking accounts are clearly a close substitute for cash in hand. Friedman and Schwartz dealt with this by proposing broader aggregates –M1, which adds checking accounts, and M2, which adds a broader range of deposits. And circa 1960 you could argue that those aggregates were good enough. But now we have a large shadow banking system, in which things like repo serve much the same function as deposits; M3 used to capture some of that, but the Fed discontinued it, in part I think because it wasn’t clear which repo belonged there, and data on repo not involving primary dealers is scattered. Whatever. The truth is that these days — with credit cards, electronic money, repo, and more all serving the purpose of medium of exchange — it’s not clear that any single number deserves to be called “the” money supply. Intellectually, this isn’t a problem; nor is there necessarily a problem maintaining monetary policy even if there isn’t any single thing you’re willing to call money. Mike Woodford has been writing about this stuff for years. But if you’re determined to view economic affairs through a sort of paleo-monetarist lens, focused on the evils of “printing money”, you’re going to have a hard time in the modern world, where the definition of money is increasingly vague."
We still have a world more than willing to buy U.S. debt (the dollar is still the world currency and the preferred store of value) and inflation is nowhere in sight.
Here, again, we have the Republicans bloviating to justify their own interests, their discredited worldview, and to enable policies benefiting their cronies. But none of their ideas have anything to do with reality. Yet another talking-point of the right-wing which you would be wise to ignore.