[T]he good news from Bernanke’s speech is that he argued that… there is empirical evidence showing that the previous rounds of quantitative easing had a modest stimulative effect. Bernanke maintains that quantitative easing has increased GDP by 3% and private payroll employment by 2 million jobs compared to a scenario with no QE…. Now for the bad news — the very bad news – which is that the arguments he makes for the effectiveness of QE show that Bernanke is totally clueless about how QE could be effective. If Bernanke thinks that QE can only work through the channels he discusses in his speech, then he might as well pack his bags and go back to Princeton…. He is useless, and his tenure has been waste of time.
Consider how Bernanke explains the way that the composition of the Fed’s balance sheet can affect economic activity.
In using the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet as a tool for achieving its mandated objectives of maximum employment and price stability, the FOMC has focused on the acquisition of longer-term securities–specifically, Treasury and agency securities…. Imperfect substitutability of assets implies that changes in the supplies of various assets available to private investors may affect the prices and yields of those assets…. Declining yields and rising asset prices ease overall financial conditions and stimulate economic activity through channels similar to those for conventional monetary policy.
Bernanke seems to think that changing the amount of MBSs available to the public can alter their prices and change the shape of the yield curve. That is absurd. The long-term assets whose supply the Fed is controlling are but a tiny sliver of the overall stock of assets whose prices adjust to maintain overall capital market equilibrium Affecting the market for a particular group of assets in which it is trading actively cannot force all the other asset markets to adjust accordingly unless the Fed is able to affect either expectations of future real rates or future inflation rates. If the Fed has succeeded in driving down the yields on long term assets, it is because the Fed has driven down expectations of future inflation or has caused expectations of future real rates to fall….
Because he completely misunderstands how QE might have provided a stimulus to economic activity, Bernanke completely misreads the evidence on the effects of QE…. [T]he only way in which QE could have provided an economic stimulus was by increasing total spending (nominal GDP) which would have meant rising prices that would have called forth an increase in output. The combination of rising prices and rising output would have caused expected real yields and expected inflation to rise, thereby driving nominal interest rates up, not down. The success of QE would have been measured by the extent to which it would have produced rising, not falling, interest rates….
Bernanke views the risk of an unanchoring of inflation expectations as a major cost of undertaking QE. Nevertheless, he exudes self-satisfaction that the expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet over which he has presided “has not materially affected inflation expectations.” OMG! The only possible way by which QE could have provided any stimulus to the economy was precisely what Bernanke was trying to stop from happening. Has there ever been a more blatant admission of self-inflicted failure?