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The Federal Reserve versus Hyman Minsky

Economics / Economic Theory Jun 04, 2014 - 05:50 PM GMT

By: Raul_I_Meijer

Economics

The Fed itself has stated many times over the past years that it intends to keep interest rates low. And now it starts complaining about low volatility. It looks like Yellen et al want to have their cake and eat it too. Perhaps they should have paid a little more attention to Hyman Minsky. Who long ago wrote – paraphrased – that if and when markets are perceived as being stable, it’s that very perception will make them unstable, because stability, i.e. low volatility, will drive investors into riskier asset purchases. The Fed’s manipulation-induced ultra-low rates have achieved just that, and now they’re surprised?


They are the ones who pushed down rates and threw trillions in QE on top of those low rates, and they had no idea that could create asset bubbles and increase risk-taking? Some of this stuff is simply wanting in credibility. But then, any and all manipulations of markets are poised to end badly, and certainly when the manipulators claim to represent, and function in, a free market.

Now they want more volatility, something that could be achieved by raising rates, especially if it’s done without all the forward guidance, but that would put the housing sector – or the housing bubble really – at risk, as well the “recovery” no-one is yet prepared to let go of. So all the Eccles occupants have left is words. They can try forward misguidance, leave the option open of surprise moves in oder to catch investors off guard. Sort of like a poker game.

The problem with that is no-one would believe that Yellen is a better poker player than even the average investor. Another problem is such intentional insecurity would hit the housing market, and stocks, anyway. You can coerce the most gullible American into buying a property if (s)he thinks rates will remain low, but not if you take away that belief.

The essence of what Minsky said is deceptively simple, and perhaps that’s why it’s so poorly understood: it’s not possible to “create” a stable market, because the very moment you try, you create its opposite, instability. Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis is quite clear, and frankly, if you don’t believe him you should first prove him wrong before trying to do what he says can’t be done anyway. If you feel you need to provide forward guidance because markets are weak and you think they’ll strengthen if you say you’ll keep rates at a certain level, you need to realize that the stability you’ve trying to convey will of necessity be self destructive.

Markets need uncertainty to be able to function properly. That’s what Minsky said. And trying to take away that uncertainty with forward guidance and trillions of dollars is a move that cannot end well. Markets are populated with people, and if you take uncertainty out of people’s individual lives, there’s no telling what they’ll do either, other than it’s certain they’ll increase the risks they take. And why not, if they think nothing can happen to them? If you’re young and feel invincible, why not down 20 shots of tequila in an hour or jump off a cliff? It’s a matter of risk assessment.

But we don’t need to get into psychology here, it’s very easy to see why Minsky was dead on. And it’s equally easy to understand why what follows from that is that the Fed, or any central bank or government, should stay away from manipulating the free markets they so favor but which are no longer free the moment the manipulation starts. If and when investors, be they pension fund managers or just people looking to buy their first home, are barred though central bank manipulation from discovering what an asset, any asset, is actually worth, and that’s where we find ourselves at the moment, a world of uncertainty is waiting for us. There is no other option.

We live in a control economy today, and we have no reasons to do that other than the Fed seeking to protect their banker friends from revealing their losses and their balance sheets. Because that’s what at stake here: if Yellen takes her fingers of the keyboard, and so does the Treasury, we’ll see a truth finding process that will wipe out some of the big players, and lots of small ones, like recent mortgage borrowers who‘ve bought in on artificially elevated price levels.

That will be hurtful, but we should understand that it’s inevitable that one day the truth shall be told. Maybe not about who shot JFK, but certainly about what your home is truly worth. The longer we postpone that day, the poorer our poor will be and the more of us will be among the poor. And that in turn will tear our societies apart, which won’t benefit anyone, not even those who escaped with the loot. Tell me again, what other purpose does the Fed serve but manipulating markets?

I don’t see any, and if I’m right, and so is Minsky – and he is – , we have ourselves a situation on our hands. I am certain there are people inside the Fed who have read, and understood, Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis. What kind of light does that shine on them, as they continue to be accessories to current policies?

By Raul Ilargi Meijer
Website: http://theautomaticearth.com (provides unique analysis of economics, finance, politics and social dynamics in the context of Complexity Theory)

© 2014 Copyright Raul I Meijer - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.
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