GO
Loading...

Kudlow: Bernanke gets taper call right

Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks after the Fed meeting in December.
Getty Images
Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks after the Fed meeting in December.

So Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke finally pulled the taper trigger this week. And it was the right thing to do.

Stocks soared. And even with some backing-and-forthing, gold, commodity indexes, and the dollar were basically stable. In other words, financial markets approved—especially stocks, where investors believe Bernanke is telling them the economy is strong enough to weather a pullback in Fed bond-buying.

Actually, if the Fed shaves $10 billion in bond purchases at each of its next seven meetings, QE3 will end in October 2014, or perhaps sooner if the economy holds up.

(Read more: Growth data shows market trading on good news instead of Fed)

In truth, this bond-buying has outlived its usefulness. The Fed's balance sheet under QE3 (and earlier QEs) has ballooned to $4 trillion, with about $2.3 trillion in excess reserves. The best that can be said of all this activism is that the central bank supplied—even oversupplied—enough liquidity to meet the voracious demand for money by banks, consumer households and others still deleveraging and remembering the 2008 financial crash. The worst that can be said is that the Fed dug itself into a hole that will be hard to exit in the years ahead.

I agree with market monetarists like Michael Darda and Jim Pethokoukis that the Fed's aggressiveness has given the U.S. a better recovery performance than money-stingy Europe. But the case for QE is not open and shut.

Thanks to Fed bond-buying, the monetary base has grown by 39 percent in the past year. But the broad money measure known as M2 rose only 6 percent. So the claim that the Fed was ballooning the money supply is simply not true. The Fed's money multiplier has broken down. In fact, it is not clear that QE bond-buying had any effect on the money supply at all, with M2 growing at about 6 percent for years. And with the velocity, or turnover, of money also broken down, nominal GDP growth has averaged 4 percent for years.

(Read more: The Federal Reserve: CNBC Explains)

There is no inflation, largely because those excess reserves at the Fed have not circulated through the economy. Milton Friedman, the father of monetarism, would never have believed that $4 trillion in new, high-powered money wouldn't affect either the money supply or the inflation rate. But these are strange times.

(And, by the way, what's wrong with a zero inflation tax for unindexed capital gains and consumer incomes?)

Meanwhile, just as Bernanke launched what will turn out to be a longer-term tightening cycle, he sugarcoated it by emphasizing a zero fed funds rate that could go on for two more years. This is the easy-money forward guidance that the central bank hopes will offset a tightening of monetary-base growth. The Fed will not be bound by a 6.5 percent unemployment rate threshold.

Of course, Fed forecasts are as subject to error as predictions from the rest of us. And there are no guarantees about the future duration of a zero interest rate. But again, at least the stock market believes easy money will be around for a long time.

I'm not so sure about this. But as a free-market guy, I'll be paying close attention to the behavior of medium- and long-term interest rates, along with gold, commodities and the dollar exchange rate.

(Read more: Let the post-taper forex trading begin!)

Which brings me back to my constant complaint that the Fed essentially has no rules. This creates confusion and uncertainty, which in all likelihood damages the economy. The Fed rarely looks at sensitive market prices such as gold, commodities and the dollar. Nor has it adopted any new rules around nominal GDP or total spending in the economy. And it seems to have thrown out the Taylor rule, which essentially is an inflation target.

Basically, the Fed has become a central-planning agency that does what it wants when it wants, and will not be subject to the discipline of rulemaking. This can lead to no good.

Anyway, rising tax rates and the high-cost Obamacare mishmash of regulations are the real factors holding back growth. So let's have the Fed keep money value and King Dollar stable. And then let's repeal Obamacare, and reform taxes and regulations to reignite supply side incentives for growth.

—By CNBC's Larry Kudlow; Follow him on Twitter @larry_kudlow

Featured

Contact Kudlow's Corner