Bernanke defends Bush’s tax cuts, inflation

In a "60 Minutes" appearance, the Fed chairman continues to champion his $600 billion bond-purchase plan

Topics: Ben Bernanke,

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is stepping up his defense of the Fed’s $600 billion Treasury bond-purchase plan, saying the economy is still struggling to become “self-sustaining” without government help.

In a taped interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday night, Bernanke also argued that Congress shouldn’t cut spending or boost taxes given how fragile the economy remains.

The Fed chairman said he thinks another recession is unlikely. But he warned that the economy could suffer a slowdown if persistently high unemployment dampens consumer spending.

The interview is part of a broad counteroffensive Bernanke has been waging against critics of the bond purchase plan the Fed announced Nov. 3. The purchases are intended to lower long-term interest rates, lift stock prices and encourage more spending to boost the economy.

Critics, from Republicans in Congress to some officials within the Fed, say they fear the Fed’s intervention could spur inflation and speculative buying on Wall Street while doing little to aid the economy.

On other issues in the “60 Minutes” interview, Bernanke:

– Argued that unemployment would have been far higher — “something like it was in the Depression, 25 percent” — had the Fed not provided extraordinary aid to Wall Street firms, banks and other companies to ease a credit crisis.

– Said it could take four or five more years for unemployment, now at 9.8 percent, to fall to a historically normal 5 percent or 6 percent.

– Reiterated that the Fed is prepared to buy even more than $600 billion in Treasury bonds over the next eight months, should it decide the economy needs the fuel of even lower interest rates.

– Argued that the risk of inflation is overblown. Bernanke said he’s “100 percent” confident the Fed will be able to ward off inflation, when the time is right, by raising interest rates and unwinding its stimulative programs.

– Called the risk of deflation — a prolonged drop in prices, wages and the values of homes and stocks — “pretty low.” He said the likelihood would have been greater if the Fed weren’t maintaining super-low interest rates.

– Urged Congress to improve the nation’s tax code “by closing loopholes and lowering rates” for individuals and companies. He said doing so would create greater incentives for people to invest.



In material from the interview that didn’t make CBS’ broadcast but was later posted online in video form, Bernanke reiterated his view that an artificially low Chinese currency is “bad for the American economy because it hurts our trade.”

It isn’t helpful for China, either, he said, because it makes it harder for Beijing’s policymakers to keep China’s economy and inflation from overheating.

Critics who fear the Fed’s bond purchases are raising the risk of inflation have complained that the purchases mean the Fed is, in effect, printing more money. In the interview, Bernanke called that a “myth.” He insisted the Fed isn’t printing money when it buys Treasurys and said the program won’t expand the amount of money in circulation in a “significant way.”

Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP, said Bernanke is right that the Fed’s purchases won’t significantly change the amount of money circulating in the economy. That’s mainly because banks aren’t lending most of the money they already hold in reserve. When the Fed buys Treasurys, it increases the reserves in the banking system. For those reserves to actually “create” money, the banks would have to lend it.

Still, Crandall suggested that the bond-buying program creates the appearance of printing money, something that could put the central bank’s credibility at stake.

Bernanke’s appearance Sunday night is part of a public-relations blitz he’s mounted since the Fed announced the program Nov. 3. In private and public appearances, Bernanke has sought to explain and defend the program to ordinary Americans, investors and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

His efforts have included an Op-Ed article in The Washington Post and discussions with students in Jacksonville, Fla., economists in Jekyll Island, Ga., business people in Columbus, Ohio, central bankers in Europe and members of the Senate Banking Committee.

Criticism has come from both home and abroad. Officials in China, Germany, Brazil and other countries have argued that the Fed’s plan is a scheme to give U.S. exporters a competitive edge by keeping the value of the dollar weak. A weak dollar makes U.S. goods cheaper abroad and foreign goods more expensive in the U.S.

It’s rare for a sitting Fed chairman to grant an interview, whether for broadcast or print. But this was Bernanke’s second appearance on “60 Minutes.” His first was in March 2009. At the time, he was facing anger over Wall Street bailouts and rising anxiety about the economy.

In the interview that aired Sunday, Bernanke pointed out that the economy is growing at an annual pace of around 2.5 percent — far too slow to reduce unemployment. For a self-sustaining recovery, consumers and businesses would need to spend more, so the economy could grow faster.

Bernanke has said he hopes the Fed’s bond-buying program will help lift stock prices. In part, that’s because lower yields on bonds would cause some people to shift money into stocks.

Higher stock prices would boost the wealth and confidence of individuals and businesses. Spending would rise, lifting incomes, profits and economic growth. Bernanke has referred to this as a “virtuous cycle.”

But when asked in the interview whether the recovery is self-sustaining, Bernanke responded: “It may not be. It’s very close to the border.”

Given the economy’s still-weak growth, he said: “We’re not very far from the level where the economy is not self-sustaining.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>