A candid moment from a member of the FOMC

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke just announced Operation Twist, a new combat operation that will supposedly fix our market woes. Supposedly. (Hey, pass the vodka, will you? I need a drink before I listen to this guy.)

I am not a financial markets expert, and I have not heard that much on the actual details of Operation Twist, but, courtesy of CNN, here’s a brief explanation:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The Federal Reserve announced “Operation Twist” Wednesday, a widely expected stimulus move reviving a policy from the 1960s.

The policy involves selling $400 billion in short-term Treasuries in exchange for the same amount of longer-term bonds, starting in October and ending in June 2012.

 

While the move does not mean the Fed will pump additional money into the economy, it is designed to lower yields on long-term bonds, while keeping short-term rates little changed.

The intent is to thereby push down interest rates on everything from mortgages to business loans, giving consumers and companies an additional incentive to borrow and spend money.

So basically, they’re selling bonds and buying bonds. Nothing exactly Earth shattering here. And definitely not anything that will get us out of this rut.

Interestingly, some members of the FOMC agree with my assessment, and one of them had a speech about it. Mr. Richard W. Fisher, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, had this to say about recent monetary policy, using a Nordic weather station as a metaphor:

Jan Mayen is a desolate volcanic island located about 600 miles west of Norway’s North Cape. It is the home of a meteorological and communications station manned in the harshest of winters by 17 hearty members of the Norwegian Armed Forces. If you read Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October, you would know it as “Loran-C,” a NATO tracking and transmissions station. In the video game Tomb Raider: Underworld, Lara Croft visits Jan Mayen in search of Thor’s Hammer, considered the most awesome of weapons in Norse mythology, capable of leveling mountains and performing the most heroic feats.

My brother Mike recently visited this station on Jan Mayen. This is the sign that greeted him.

In norsk [sic], it reads as follows:

“Theory is when you understand everything, but nothing works.”

“Practice is when everything works, but nobody understands why.”

“At this station, theory and practice are united, so nothing works and nobody understands why.”

My wry brother implied that this about summed it up for monetary policy. Drawing on theory and practice, the 17 members of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) have been working in the harshest economic environment to harness monetary theory and lessons learned from practice to revive the economy and job creation without forsaking our commitment to maintaining price stability. But the committee’s policy has yet to show evidence of working and nobody seems to quite understand why.

I’ll make no bones about it: a lot of what follows is complicated financial jargon. But the above snippet, I think, perfectly sums up what the Federal Reserve has been doing throughout this financial crisis, and for many years before. They tried QE1 and QE2, and now Operation Twist…and it did diddly. They messed around with interest rates under Greenspan, and gave us a massive bubble in the housing market, which led to this mess in the first place.

Maybe Bernanke should study some Austrian economics?


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