Bernanke feels as though he has at least some extra ammunition in the back of his armory in case things get worse still. Which raises the obvious question: why isn’t he using that ammunition now? Binyamin Appelbaum asked that question of Bernanke in April; here’s how Bernanke responded.
The view of the committee is that that would be very reckless. We, the Federal Reserve, have spent 30 years building up credibility for low and stable inflation, which has proved extremely valuable in that we’ve been able to take strong accommodative actions in the last four or five years to support the economy without leading to an unanchoring of inflation expectations or a destabilization of inflation. To risk that asset for what I think would be quite tentative and perhaps doubtful gains on the real side would be, I think, an unwise thing to do.
From today’s presser, my feeling is that Bernanke maybe doesn’t feel as strongly any more that he would be reckless to act more aggressively. But he does still feel that the upside from doing so is “doubtful”. If he’s forced by crisis to pull out the ammo, he’ll do so. But Bernanke clearly doesn’t consider the unemployment crisis to be a crisis in that sense. If something happens suddenly, then policymakers can act strongly and decisively. Years of high unemployment are in many ways more damaging than the sudden drop in government spending that risks arriving with the fiscal cliff. But because the damage is slow-acting and invidious, it seems that unemployment, on its own, is incapable of persuading Bernanke to do more.
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