How Ben Bernanke Rationalizes "Exceptionally Low" Interest Rates

Anything happen in the markets yesterday? To tell the truth, we forgot to check. Let’s have a look now, then…

Dow up by 80-something points. A barrel of the world’s currently-preferred energy sits pretty at $100, on the nose. Nothing much, in other words.

Ooh…but here’s something: “Gold extends post-Fed rally to 6-week high.” MarketWatch has the story…

Gold prices climbed Thursday to levels last seen in early December, extending a rally triggered as the Federal Reserve pledged to hold US interest rates near zero until the end of 2014.

Gold for February delivery, having risen almost $25 yesterday on the news, now fetches $1,725 an ounce. And this, just when investors had begun to abandon the barbarous relic, to question its motives. But that was their mistake. Gold may go up. It may go down. But it has no motives. It is no man’s liability. Instead, it simply holds a mirror up to its government-issued competition. It is, itself, just a dumb lump of metal. But even so…it frequently appears the brighter, smarter choice — in relative terms — to the buffoons in the mirror.

Should we be surprised?

So Mr. Bernanke is fiddling the levers again, promising to keep rates lower than a sea snake’s belly until 2014. He might have just taken out an ad in the front page of the paper:

“Fed to Savers: Go to Hell!”

America’s #1 central banker may well be highly intelligent…but that does not preclude him from also being a dunce. Probably, it depends on the subject at hand. Maybe he’s a talented cowboy, for example. Or perhaps he is a whizz at the Times’ crossword. Either way, we wish he’d dedicate more of his time to words and herds because, as a central banker, he’s either a fool, a knave…or both.

This is a man, let us not forget, who proclaimed…

  • In 2005, on the question of a speculative bubble building in housing as a result of cheap credit, that “these price increases largely reflect strong economic fundamentals.”
  • In 2007, as the market started to turn, “we do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy or to the financial system.”
  • In January of 2008, two months before the nationalization of GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, “They will make it through the storm.”
  • And in June of 2009 that, “The Federal Reserve will not monetize the debt.”

And now, despite all evidence to the contrary, Mr. Bernanke thinks he can pull the economy out of the very mess into which he helped to steer it. He thinks he can deliver prosperity to a nation by punishing savers and inducing malinvestment — gross capital misallocation — on a scale so grand that die-hard proponents of Social (In)Security must be starting to blush.

Bernanke’s commitment to holding interest rates “exceptionally low” for an “extended period,” reeks of exactly the kind of insanity required to double down on a bad bet, of repeating the same experiment and expecting a different result. Combined with his “relapse into QE3, Euro-style,” which Eric Fry highlighted in yesterday’s issue “Gentlemen, Start Your Printing Presses!”, dollar-holders (and metal holders) ought to expect more of the same.

Critics, amazingly enough, still wonder when the man will ever learn. Never, is our guess. For one thing, his incentive for denial is simply too great. What do we mean by that? Glad you asked…

Imagine someone’s whole existence, his entire life’s work, is somehow built on a false grasp of reality, a radically skewed first principle. Imagine, for example, he is an internationally respected professor of alchemy. Or a world renowned proponent of the “stalk theory” of conception. Or…a central banker who believes he can know the impossible…the minds, the desires and the needs, of the millions who make up the market over which he imagines himself to lord.

For a while, luck, coincidence and the arc of history appear to be on his side. As his life goes along, our hapless hero is awarded greater and greater accolades for his misbegotten theories and crackpot ideas. He is gifted the highest seat in the land. The adoration of friends and peers. TIME Magazine’s “Man of the Year.” Eventually, he comes to believe in the delusion he has created. It becomes his reason for being, his raison d’etre. Deeper and deeper he becomes convinced in his own ability to perform the impossible.

One can see that our hero, sadly mistaken as he is, has every incentive to deny reality when (especially when) it is presented to him facts and all. Tell the alchemist he cannot alter the properties of led and his world, as he knows it, as it comforts him at night, begins to crumble. Likewise for our birdbrained OBGYN.

So let the evidence against Mr. Bernanke’s understanding of reality mount. As it will continue to do. We don’t imagine this man, whose entire reputation, whose entire career, rests on a false reality, is going to suddenly about-face anytime soon. He has every incentive to deny the facts, to look the other way.

Of course, it’s easy to deny reality. Not so easy, as Ayn Rand once quipped, to deny the consequences of denying reality. They will come due soon enough, Fellow Reckoner…and then, as Bill Bonner likes to say, all the Fed’s horses and all Obama’s men won’t be able to put Mr. Bernanke’s economy back together…ever again.

Joel Bowman
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning