The Federal Reserve System’s policy known widely as QE3 is a massive subsidy of the rich at the expense of the middle class. This is the conclusion of Stephen Roach, who for years was chief economist for Morgan Stanley.
He calls this policy destabilizing. He says this: the FED “is courting an increasingly treacherous endgame at home and abroad.”
The FED’s creation of $85 billion of counterfeit money — euphemistically called “liquidity” — is based on a theory. The theory is that rich people, who buy most of the stocks and bonds, will feel wealthier, and therefore will buy more stocks and bonds. In short, QE3 is an indirect way to goose the equity markets. Roach writes:
With its benchmark lending rate at the zero-bound, the Fed has embraced a fundamentally different approach in attempting to guide the US economy. It has shifted its focus from the price of credit to influencing the credit cycle’s quantity dimension through the liquidity injections that quantitative easing requires. In doing so, the Fed is relying on the “wealth effect” – brought about largely by increasing equity and home prices – as its principal transmission mechanism for stabilization policy.
He fully understands this: “wealth effects are for the wealthy.”
The Fed should know that better than anyone. After all, it conducts a comprehensive triennial Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), which provides a detailed assessment of the role that wealth and balance sheets play in shaping the behavior of a broad cross-section of American consumers.
In 2010, the last year for which SCF data are available, the top 10% of the US income distribution had median holdings of some $267,500 in their equity portfolios, nearly 16 times the median holdings of $17,000 for the other 90%. Fully 90.6% of US families in the highest decile of the income distribution owned stocks – double the 45% ownership share of the other 90%.
The top 10% of wealth owners in the USA are getting the lion’s share of the QE3 benefits.
Moreover, the 2010 SCF shows that the highest decile’s median holdings of all financial assets totaled $550,800, or 20 times the holdings of the other 90%. At the same time, the top 10% also owned nonfinancial assets (including primary residences) with a median value of $756,400 – nearly six times the value held by the other 90%.
All of this means that the wealthiest 10% of the US income distribution benefit the most from the Fed’s liquidity injections into risky asset markets. And yet, despite the significant increases in asset values traceable to QE over the past several years – residential property as well as financial assets – there has been little to show for it in terms of a wealth-generated recovery in the US economy.
Here is his conclusion. “QE benefits the few who need it the least. That is not exactly a recipe for a broad-based and socially optimal economic recovery.”