Did the Fed's Decision to Pay Interest on Reserves Slow Growth?

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Saturday, 28 August 2010 07:23

In his speech at the annual meeting of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke listed his options to counter a faltering economy. One of the three items on the list was reducing the 0.25 percent interest rate that the Federal Reserve Board now pays on reserves.

It is striking that Bernanke would include this item on his list because he just instituted the policy of paying interest on reserves last year. At the time there was no discussion of the possibility that paying interest on reserves would have any significant negative impact on growth. If paying interest does not slow growth, then reducing the interest rate paid on reserves cannot raise growth.

Reporters covering Mr. Bernanke's speech should have made this point, since it suggests that he does not have any real plans to deal with a weak economy. It would have also been worth pointing out that the economy is growing much slower than the 3.0 to 3.5 percent range that the Fed had forecast earlier in the year. The second quarter data showed the economy growing just 1.6 percent, with final demand growing at a 1.0 percent rate. If Bernanke is prepared to take action in response to a weak economy, this would appear to be the time, as the unemployment rate is likely to rise through the rest of the year.

It is worth noting that at this gathering 5 years ago the participants debated whether Alan Greenspan was the greatest central banker of all time.