Joseph E. Gagnon: Time for a Monetary Boost: In his testimony to the Congress this week, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke left the door open to further monetary stimulus but made it clear that such action is not imminent. This reluctance to act may seem puzzling given the widespread view that the economic recovery is too weak.... The Federal Reserve's own forecast shows that it will take at least three or four years for employment to return to its long-run sustainable level. This extended period of high unemployment represents a massive waste of productive labor and untold personal suffering of unemployed workers. The Fed should be aiming to get us back on track within two years. And the urgency of Fed action is all the more important because Congress has refused to provide more stimulus....
Clearly, the case for monetary stimulus is strong. But what form should it take?... [T]he Fed... should return to its traditional roles of lending to the banking system and buying Treasury securities.... [T]he Fed should lower the interest rate it pays on bank reserves to zero.... [T]he Fed should bring down the rates on longer-term Treasury securities by targeting the interest rate on 3-year Treasury notes at 0.25 percent and aggressively purchasing such securities whenever their yield exceeds the target.... Finally, the Fed could bolster the stimulative effects of these actions by establishing a full-allotment lending facility to enable banks to borrow (with high-quality collateral) at terms of up to 24 months at a fixed interest rate of 0.25 percent.
These measures are all within the Federal Reserve's established powers. They pose essentially no risk to the Fed's balance sheet. They would reduce unemployment roughly as much as a 2-year $600 billion fiscal package and yet they would actually reduce the federal budget deficit. And they can be reversed quickly should the balance of risks shift from deflation to inflation.
Given the unsatisfactory outlook for unemployment and inflation and the lack of action by Congress, that is the right medicine for the US economy now.