Nobel Laureate Eugene Fama made waves in the past few days when he called QE a "neutral event". Fama argued that because QE was just the exchange of one kind of interest bearing asset (money that collects IOER) for another (long term treasuries and agency MBS), the policy could have no effect. In my view, his comments were mistaken.... By ignoring the role of expectations at the zero lower bound, Fama glosses over the real reason why QE matters. Scott Sumner explained this a few weeks ago:
So QE works for very simple reasons. Permanent monetary injections are effective even at the zero bound. QE programs are a signal that central banks would prefer at least slightly faster nominal GDP growth. Slightly faster nominal GDP growth requires that at least a small portion of the currency injection be permanent. So by signaling a preference for slightly faster nominal GDP growth, central banks are implicitly signaling a preference to have at least a small portion of the QE program be permanent (for any given IOR rate). Markets believe the central banks (and why shouldn’t they?) And hence asset prices react to the QE program.
In short, QE is effective because it changes expectations about the future monetary base.... This is not a story of wealth effects from appreciating financial assets or a reach for yield due to lower average bond duration. It's not a story of people borrowing as the result of lower interest rates. It's just a simple tale of price expectations and forward looking monetary policy.
Another peculiar argument Fama made was that the Fed's current policy should actually be raising short term interest rates.... But this misses the underlying macro context. Because the purchase of assets represents a signal about a desired monetary outcome, the result of this "asset swap" is not as neutral as Fama would believe....
Monetary theory is peculiar because it contradicts a lot of basic microeconomic intuitions. As such, you often see very smart people (Nobel prize winners included) make smart-sounding arguments that are ultimately false. So for as much as I respect the work Professor Fama has done in the field of empirical finance, I disagree with his description of QE. It's not some neutral event, and to think so distracts from the urgent task of monetary reform.