Quantitative easing isn't magic

"... a candid review of what central banks cannot do. Yes, they can usually forestall panic. Yes, for better or worse they can keep zombie banks alive. No, they cannot bring on economic recovery or solve any of our deeper economic problems, from unemployment and foreclosures in America to unemployment and economic collapse in Greece and elsewhere."


By James K. Galbraith


What should we make of the latest moves to kickstart the US economy, and to save the euro? As the late, great Harvard chaplain Peter Gomes said to my graduating class many years ago, about our degrees: "There is less there than meets the eye."

Quantitative easing, the third tranche of which was announced in the US last week (QE3), is just a fancy phrase for buying bonds, notably mortgage-backed-securities, in which operation the Federal Reserve takes assets from the banks and gives them cash. This raises the bond price and lowers the yield. It also tends to boost stock prices – very nice for people who own stock – and it can spur mortgage refinancing, improving the cashflow of solvent homeowners.

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