Essay: Easing Doubts about Quantitative You-know-what

I counted 600 billion mentions of quantitative easing in yesterday’s Financial Times. And yet, few of us could explain quantitative easing to a chimpanzee. To be fair, Koko would have the dickens of a time explaining quantitative easing to us.

What we do know is that when Japan tried this, they ended up using sticks to eat raw fish wrapped in seaweed. That and decades of zero economic growth.

Before you run out to buy wasabi, read on for my handy guide to quantitative easing. It should prove particularly enlightening for those who do not understand why printing double the Greek economy’s worth of dollars to give to banks is the obvious answer to a crisis caused by bad banking.

The basic object of quantitative easing is to throw gobs of money at banks so banks will throw gobs of money at the economy, creating the illusion of prosperity. “Easing” is a misnomer because this is actually incredibly difficult to pull off. People do use the money to buy flat screen televisions, Ford Focuses, and Big Mac extra value meals. The problem is that quantitative easing does not cause there to be more TVs, Fords, or Big Macs, making the double cheeseburgers almost as high in demand as they are in calories.

Since Americans do not believe in saving, they figure they may as well use their bonus cash to simply pay more for the same TVs, Fords, and Big Macs they intended to buy in the first place. McDonalds obliges them by adding six zeros to the price of everything on its dollar menu. Fundamentally, nothing has changed, only now those old ladies who pay with pennies are that much more aggravating. Everyone is still at high risk for heart disease.

Ben Bernanke explained the point of all this on CSPAN last week, but he was droning and Glee was on. Whatever it is, you have admit that quantitative easing sounds like decisive, effective monetary policy. The term actually came from Bernanke family Scrabble night. Aunt Bertha played it across a triple word score for six hundred billion points. Bernanke did not challenge her, and he expects the same level of trust from you.

To be fair, the Fed has an exit strategy, namely, taking away the bonus money just after the warranty expires on all of those Ford Focuses. McDonalds wipes the extra zeros off its dollar menu. Best Buy runs an ad offering 100,000% off on flat screen TVs. We end up with about as much money as we started with and about as many flat screen TVs, Ford Focuses, and Big Macs as we would have watched, driven, or eaten as the case may be.

So you see, our situation is nothing like Japan’s. The Japanese would never buy Ford.

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