Janet Yellen was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last night to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve, but Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley was among those who voted against her.
Grassley, a Republican, says the current vice-chair of the Fed has backed monetary policies the past several years which he says are “unconventional and unprecedented,” raising what Grassley calls “deep concerns.” “You’ve got to look at the long-term effect of what the Fed’s doing now,” Grassley says. “Historical evidence suggests that failing to reign in ‘easy money’ policies on a timely basis risks fueling an economic bubble or even hyperinflation.”
In recent years, Grassley says the Fed has flooded the economy with trillions of dollars through large purchases of mortgage-backed securities and longer-term Treasury securities. As a result, he says the Fed has seen its balance sheet more than quadruple. Grassley says, “Janet Yellen has not presented a plan on how the Fed will be able to go about unwinding its nearly-$4-trillion balance sheet without spooking investors.”
While welcoming the news from the Feds’ meeting in December that it intends to reduce monthly purchases, Grassley — a former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee — says he fears the policies will bring real and lasting damage to our economy. “I know it’s nice to see the stock market go up 25% in one year but the benefits of the stock market going up haven’t reached Main Street,” Grassley says. “Main Street has had benefits that are very questionable at best.”
Back in the 1970s, he says Fed policies led to “stagflation,” a combination of hyperinflation and high unemployment. The result was skyrocketing interest rates of 20-percent and then farmland prices shot up. “In the 1980s, they reached a high of about $2,400 an acre in Iowa,” Grassley says. “When this effort to get hyperinflation under control, they dropped down to an average of $700 an acre by 1987, putting a lot of farmers out of business.”
In recent years, the bursting of the housing bubble in 2007 was fueled by rampant speculation which Grassley says was driven, in part, by historically low interest rates maintained by the Fed between 2001 and 2004. Grassley adds, “Just as we should not repeat the mistakes of the Great Depression, we need to be careful not to repeat the mistakes that fueled our recent recession.”
Yellen will take over the Fed after Ben Bernanke (bur-NANE-kee) finishes his second term at the end of the month. She’ll become the first woman to chair the Fed in its century-long history.