Former Israeli central bank chief Stanley Fischer defended heavy U.S. money printing in remarks at a Washington, D.C., summit on Tuesday, deeming it a dangerous but necessary step to overcome financial crisis.
“Without the Fed, we would have had a much deeper recession,” said Fischer, asked if the world’s central bankers had too heavy a hand in influencing the global economy. “Without the extraordinary things that it [the Fed] has done, the economy would be in much worse shape today.”
That could be interpreted as a defense of current Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, who was a graduate student of Fischer’s during his longtime economic professorship at MIT. Earlier in 2013, Fischer was even considered an outside candidate to succeed Bernanke, before vice chair Janet Yellen secured the nomination in the fall.
But the respected academic also warned that the precise timing of the drawback from massive fiscal stimulus could be very dangerous.
“There’s this problem of not quite understanding what’s happened to the participation rate of the labor force,” remarked Fischer at a Wall Street Journal CEO conference panel.
The extent of unemployment has been a key measure the Fed watches to time its so-called tapering of bond buying. Many economists have since pointed out that labor participation is at historic lows, which means that more people than ever have effectively dropped out of the workforce and aren’t actively seeking jobs.
“So there are dangers,” continued Fischer. “You’re beginning to see housing prices take off in the United States.”
Asked about quantitative easing, he said, “Yes, it’s dangerous…but it was necessary.”
Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia University’s Business School, echoed the danger theme in even stronger terms. He said the Federal Reserve is now in “dangerous territory,” despite rescuing the country early on, after it eased away from structural reforms.
“I’m less persuaded that some of the other measures – long-duration Treasuries [bonds], a variety of quantitative easing measures – have had much of an effect on the real economy,” he said.
Negative or near-negative interest rates could have been better achieved by fiscal policymakers, said Hubbard – except that political dysfunction prevented that.
Markets have increasingly looked to the Federal Reserve for clues, leadership and direction with respect to the U.S. economy, more than to budget and debt limit battles from Washington, D.C.
But Fed policymakers must not try to “teach the government how to behave better,” warned Fischer.
“The moment you start thinking you’re disciplining government, when you’re an unelected official, you’re in deep waters,” he said.
Other monetary policy figures, like former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, another former Fed chair favorite, are due to speak at the event on Tuesday.