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FT: QE2 is risky and should be limited

Author: Martin S. Feldstein, President Emeritus, National Bureau of Economic Research
November 2, 2010

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In this Financial Times opinion piece, Martin Feldstein, a Harvard economics professor, argues that the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing proposal is not a fix for the U.S. economy.

The Federal Reserve's proposed policy of quantitative easing is a dangerous gamble with only a small potential upside benefit and substantial risks of creating asset bubbles that could destabilize the global economy. Although the US economy is weak and the outlook uncertain, QE is not the right remedy.

Under the label of QE, the Fed will buy long-term government bonds, perhaps one trillion dollars or more, adding an equal amount of cash to the economy and to banks' excess reserves. Expectation of this has lowered long-term interest rates, depressed the dollar's international value, bid up the price of commodities and farm land and raised share prices.

Like all bubbles, these exaggerated increases can rapidly reverse when interest rates return to normal levels. The greatest danger will then be to leveraged investors, including individuals who bought these assets with borrowed money and banks that hold long-term securities. These risks should be clear after the recent crisis driven by the bursting of asset price bubbles. Although the specific asset prices that are now rising are different from last time, the possibility of damaging declines when bubbles burst is worryingly similar

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