Early this week, the Federal Reserve Board lowered interest rates at an unexpected time by a surprisingly large amount.
I see three possible explanations, which I think are about equally likely.
- The Fed has evidence that the economy is slowing more than markets have realized.
- The Fed has evidence that some big financial institutions have troubles that are endangering the careers of some influential people, and is bailing out those institutions in hopes that those people will use their influence to enhance the job security of the people in charge of the Fed.
- Bernanke isn’t interested in the kind of publicity he can get by maximizing the total number of rate cuts. He realizes that a steady, predictable series of small rate cuts doesn’t stimulate the economy as well as cutting rates far enough that it isn’t easy to predict that more rate cuts will be needed (for one thing, making further rate cuts predictable creates incentives to postpone borrowing to when rates are lower). If that’s what’s happening, it’s not going to work as well as he would like this time, because the markets think the Fed is following the predictable rate cut strategy that gives them publicity for doing something at the time that the average person is most concerned about recession.
In related news, Singapore has a system which is designed to stabilize the economy rather than to provide politicians with opportunities to claim credit for doing something about the economy.
China is imposing widespread price controls and suffering power shortages which hinder production. If China were like the U.S., I’d say it’s trying to recreate the experience the U.S. had in the early 1970s. But the way Chinese politics work, the central government probably will allow local authorities to use a lot of discretion in enforcing the price controls, so the price controls will probably only produce shortages in a few industries that are dominated by large state-owned firms.