Economist Peter Schiff is worried the U.S. economy is slowing down so much, the country is back in a recession. He made the dire prediction to CNBC.com blaming Federal Reserve Chief Janet Yellen for being all talk, but little action.
“Central bankers at the Fed bark but they won’t bite,” Peter Schiff, frequent Fed critic and founder of Euro Pacific Capital, told CNBC.com. “I knew all that talk was a bunch of nonsense.”
Schiff’s criticism of Yellen has to do with the fact it looked like the Fed was considering doing interest rate hikes on a more regular basis, before switching gears this week. Yellen told the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday, it was important to keep rates low and not put the pedal down on raising rates.
Looking beyond the near term, I anticipate that growth will also be supported by a lessening of some of the headwinds that continue to restrain the U.S. economy, which include weak foreign activity, dollar appreciation, a pace of household formation that has not kept up with population and income growth and so has depressed homebuilding, and productivity growth that has been running at a slow pace by historical standards since the end of the recession. If these headwinds gradually fade as I expect, the neutral federal funds rate will also rise, in which case it will, all else equal, be appropriate to gradually increase the federal funds rate more or less in tandem to achieve our dual objectives. Otherwise, monetary policy would eventually become overly accommodative as the economy strengthened
It’s possible Schiff’s belief the U.S. is back in a recession is because Yellen herself raised a possible alarm bell over raising rates too fast (emphasis mine).
Given the risks to the outlook, I consider it appropriate for the Committee to proceed cautiously in adjusting policy. This caution is especially warranted because, with the federal funds rate so low, the FOMC’s ability to use conventional monetary policy to respond to economic disturbances is asymmetric. If economic conditions were to strengthen considerably more than currently expected, the FOMC could readily raise its target range for the federal funds rate to stabilize the economy. By contrast, if the expansion was to falter or if inflation was to remain stubbornly low, the FOMC would be able to provide only a modest degree of additional stimulus by cutting the federal funds rate back to near zero.
This shows Yellen seems to be worried about the price of oil and how it’s impacted the U.S. economy, specifically in Texas where over 1K jobs were lost over the last few weeks. The same goes for BP which looks to cut 7K jobs by the end of next year. So the Fed may be looking to keep rates low (as it seems like they’ve been doing for almost 20 years) because they’re worried another economic downturn is going to happen. Which would mean more angst for them.
So why should non-economists care about it? For one, another economic slowdown means jobs are going to be lost and the 24/7 news cycle will feature at least an hour or two about what’s happening on Wall Street each day. But it’s also going to probably increase the angst felt between “regular Joes” and “the elite,” who appear to be making off just fine, as more people cut expenses. This gives populists like Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Elizabeth Warren more of a forum to speak out on what they see as “the problem,” and allow some (mostly Warren and Sanders) to play class warfare.
The other reason non-economists need to pay attention is because it could affect future elections. The government could start pushing the idea of another “bailout” or “stimulus” in the next year or so, if the economy slows down even more. This means we’re back where we were in 2008 and 2009 where President George W. Bush abandoned the free market principles he claimed to hold to, and took almost all the GOP with him (including current House Speaker Paul Ryan). Democrats went anti-free market also, but that wasn’t surprising considering how anti-free market they are anyway.
A sluggish economy would also give Washington an excuse to start even more government spending. Both Trump and Sanders have discussed “fixing our crumbling infrastructure,” which means there would be a push to spend money on construction projects. But where would this money come from, and would there be any “value” to it? The answer to the first question is the taxpayer, and the answer to the second question is probably not. The federal government would be repeating the mistakes of the past by spending its way out of a recession, which isn’t the way to go. For everyone talking about how FDR’s New Deal and the Bush/Obama stimulus “saved the U.S.,” they’re forgetting a little known economic downturn right at the start of the Roaring 20’s. This economic downturn is mostly forgotten because of how quickly it ended. It wasn’t because of increased government spending or a stimulus check suddenly showing up on a doorstop. The downturn ended because the government did nothing. It helped Woodrow Wilson was on his way out because of his health, but Warren G. Harding didn’t try to use the government as a rudder to direct the economy. He did hold an emergency conference on unemployment and got the federal and local governments to start coordinating a bit more, but that was about it. When Coolidge took over the economy got even stronger because he was all about keeping expenses low and cutting unnecessary programs out.
So how does this affect “us”? For one, it means those who are plugged into the political scene need to keep their politicians honest. It means becoming more plugged in and watching like a hawk what the government is considering. Voters also need to make sure their leaders are remembering where they came from. If it means spreading the word about a congressman hardly ever coming back to their home state or giving in to special interests once in D.C., then people need to do that. But it also means making sure the potential replacement has a solid track record of “walking the walk.” Rhetoric is one thing, but action is another. The only way politicians can be held accountable is if voters decide to hold them accountable. If they don’t, then the conventional D.C. “wisdom” of “spend our way out” will only keep going.