Now that Geitner is officially king-o-the money, the last piece is in place for a major policy shift. In his now infamous speech, "Deflation: Making Sure ‘It' Does Not Happen Here" Ben Bernanke listed all the things the Fed should do to combat deflation. First and foremost was to prevent deflation. This is like telling a doctor that your arm hurts when you move it and she tells you not to move it! Second he suggested that a central bank can prevent deflation by ensuring the stability of the financial system. To quote the Chairman,(emphasis mine)
The Fed should and does use its regulatory and supervisory powers to ensure that the financial system will remain resilient if financial conditions change rapidly.
Strike two. Ask the employees of Bear Stearns and the investors in the Madoff Funds how the regulatory and supervisory powers kept the system stable when financial conditions changed.
Third, Chairman Bernake suggests that,
When inflation is already low and the fundamentals of the economy suddenly deteriorate, the central bank should act more preemptively and more aggressively than usual in cutting rates.
By most accounts, the economy deteriorated significantly during the 4th quarter of 2008. Furthermore, the level of inflation (as measured by CPI) has been decreasing over the last two months.
Looking at the annual percentage change in CPI from 1914 to present illustrates that we are in a period when inflation is "already low."
So we find ourselves in the place Chairman Bernanke suggested in 2002 where a central banks needs to "…act more preemptively and more aggressively than usual in cutting rates." Unfortunately, the US already has a Federal Funds target rate between 0.0% and 0.25%. Strike Three? Not exactly.
The Chairman presciently laid out the steps a central bank can use when its policy rate falls to zero. First, print money. Simple solution, complicated consequences. However, it is appears the Fed and Treasury have already begun.