In a moment of rare insight, two weeks ago in response to a question “Why is establishment media romanticizing communism? Authoritarianism, poverty, starvation, secret police, murder, mass incarceration? WTF?”, we said that this was simply a “prelude to central bank funded universal income”, or in other words, Fed-funded and guaranteed cash for everyone.
On Thursday afternoon, in a stark warning of what’s to come, San Francisco Fed President John Williams confirmed our suspicions when he said that to fight the next recession, global central bankers will be forced to come up with a whole new toolkit of “solutions”, as simply cutting interest rates won’t well, cut it anymore, and in addition to more QE and forward guidance – both of which were used widely in the last recession – the Fed may have to use negative interest rates, as well as untried tools including so-called price-level targeting or nominal-income targeting.
This is a bold, tactical admission that as a result of the aging workforce and the dramatic slack which still remains in the labor force that the US central bank will have to take drastic steps to preserve social order and cohesion.
According to Williams’, Reuters reports, central bankers should take this moment of “relative economic calm” to rethink their approach to monetary policy. Others have echoed Williams’ implicit admission that as a result of 9 years of Fed attempts to stimulate the economy – yet merely ending up with the biggest asset bubble in history – the US finds itself in a dead economic end, such as Chicago Fed Bank President Charles Evans, who recently urged a strategy review at the Fed, but Williams’ call for a worldwide review is considerably more ambitious.
Among Williams’ other suggestions include not only negative interest rates but also raising the inflation target – to 3%, 4% or more, in an attempt to crush debt by making life unbearable for the majority of the population – as it considers new monetary policy frameworks. Still, even the most dovish Fed lunatic has to admit that such strategies would have costs, including those that diverge greatly from the Fed’s current approach. Or maybe not: “price-level targeting, he said, is advantageous because it fits “relatively easily” into the current framework.”
Considering that for the better part of a decade the Fed prescribed lower rates and ZIRP as the cure to the moribund US economy, only to flip and then propose higher rates as the solution to all problems. It is not surprising that even the most insane proposals are currently being contemplated because they fit “relatively easily” into the current framework.
Additionally, confirming that the Fed has learned nothing at all, during a Q&A in San Francisco, Williams said that “negative interest rates need to be on the list” of potential tools the Fed could use in a severe recession. He also said that QE remains more effective in terms of cost-benefit, but “would not exclude that as an option if the circumstances warranted it.”
“If all of us get stuck at the lower bound” then “policy spillovers are far more negative,” Williams said of global economic interconnectedness. “I’m not pushing for” some “United Nations of policy.”
And, touching on our post from mid-September, in which we pointed out that the BOC was preparing to revising its mandate, Williams also said that “the Fed and all central banks should have Canada-like practice of revisiting inflation target every 5 years.”
Meanwhile, the idea of Fed targeting, or funding, “income” is hardly new: back in July, Deutsche Bank was the first institution to admit that the Fed has created “universal basic income for the rich”:
The accommodation and QE have acted as a free insurance policy for the owners of risk, which, given the demographics of stock market participation, in effect has functioned as universal basic income for the rich. It is not difficult to see how disruptive unwind of stimulus could become. Clearly, in this context risk has become a binding constraint.
It is only “symmetric” that everyone else should also benefit from the Fed’s monetary generosity during the next recession.
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Finally, for those curious what will really happen after the next “great liquidity crisis”, JPM’s Marko Kolanovic laid out a comprehensive checklist one month ago. It predicted not only price targeting (i.e., stocks), but also negative income taxes, progressive corporate taxes, new taxes on tech companies, and, of course, hyperinflation. Here is the excerpt.
What will governments and central banks do in the scenario of a great liquidity crisis? If the standard rate cutting and bond purchases don’t suffice, central banks may more explicitly target asset prices (e.g., equities). This may be controversial in light of the potential impact of central bank actions in driving inequality between asset owners and labor. Other ‘out of the box’ solutions could include a negative income tax (one can call this ‘QE for labor’), progressive corporate tax, universal income and others. To address growing pressure on labor from AI, new taxes or settlements may be levied on Technology companies (for instance, they may be required to pick up the social tab for labor destruction brought by artificial intelligence, in an analogy to industrial companies addressing environmental impacts). While we think unlikely, a tail risk could be a backlash against central banks that prompts significant changes in the monetary system. In many possible outcomes, inflation is likely to pick up.
The next crisis is also likely to result in social tensions similar to those witnessed 50 years ago in 1968. In 1968, TV and investigative journalism provided a generation of baby boomers access to unfiltered information on social developments such as Vietnam and other proxy wars, Civil rights movements, income inequality, etc. Similar to 1968, the internet today (social media, leaked documents, etc.) provides millennials with unrestricted access to information on a surprisingly similar range of issues. In addition to information, the internet provides a platform for various social groups to become more self-aware, united and organized. Groups span various social dimensions based on differences in income/wealth, race, generation, political party affiliations, and independent stripes ranging from alt-left to alt-right movements. In fact, many recent developments such as the US presidential election, Brexit, independence movements in Europe, etc., already illustrate social tensions that are likely to be amplified in the next financial crisis. How did markets evolve in the aftermath of 1968? Monetary systems were completely revamped (Bretton Woods), inflation rapidly increased, and equities produced zero returns for a decade. The decade ended with a famously wrong Businessweek article ‘the death of equities’ in 1979.
Kolanovic’s warning may have sounded whimsical one month ago. Now, in light of Williams’ words, it appears that it may serve as a blueprint for what comes next.