Economic pain in store if the Fed bows to Trump's wishes

Economic pain in store if the Fed bows to Trump's wishes
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On Monday, President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE stated in a White House interview that he was “not thrilled” about the Federal Reserve raising short-term interest rates.

The president’s efforts to block Fed rate increases are not only very troubling for the economy but may have negative political consequences for Republicans.

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What the president said in his interview echoed his remarks last Friday to political donors in which he stated that “he is unhappy” about recent Fed moves to raise interest rates and similar comments he made last month on CNBC

 

Although the White House stated after the CNBC interview that “the president respects the independence of the Fed,” his repeated complaining about the Fed’s rate increases and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell clearly indicate otherwise.

As a real estate developer who borrowed routinely to finance his developments, Trump understandably likes low interest rates, but the low rates the Fed has engineered in recent years have done extensive long-term damage to the U.S. economy, as I explained in July.

Eventually, the United States, and other countries, too, should rely on market forces, not central bank rate manipulation, to establish interest rates across the entire yield curve. 

A Fed move away from today’s extremely low rates, especially at the longer end of the yield curve, would be a step in that direction. The president clearly does not understand or support that.

Instead, the president apparently fears that the Fed boosting short-term rates will damage the economic recovery, harming his initiatives to reduce the United States’ trade deficit. 

What the president seems not to understand, though, or does not want to admit, is that the continuation of excessively low rates will cause more harm than good beyond the next year or two.

My greatest concern is that rates will not rise sufficiently fast enough to curb the increasingly evident inflationary forces in the U.S. economy, a byproduct of a full-employment economy that continues to be over-stimulated by low rates and the excessive stimulus of enormous federal deficits.

The broad range of tariffs the federal government is imposing on U.S. imports will fuel those inflationary forces further. While higher interest rates will have a braking effect on the U.S. economy, the economic pain of higher rates will be much less if they contain inflation.

Otherwise, the United States could experience a repeat of the 1970s and early 1980s when the high inflation of the 1970s led to the record-high interest rates in the early 1980s that were needed to curb that inflation. 

The economic price of those high rates was a recession that was the most severe, up to that time, since the end of World War II.

Given that the United States has only recently recovered fully from the last, even more severe recession, triggered by the 2008 financial crisis, the last thing the country (and the GOP) need is another prolonged recession. 

Better a little economic pain today, in the form of small increases in short-term interest rates, than much greater pain near the next presidential election, when long-suppressed rates need to rise even faster to curb accelerating inflation.

The United States faces severe economic challenges over the next few years, caused by a sustained period of excessively low interest rates and enormous federal deficits that may yet be compounded by high tariffs and a trade war. 

Consequently, the economic outlook is not bright, but that outlook will be even dimmer if the Fed bows to the president’s wishes and moves too slowly in boosting short-term interest rates.

Bert Ely is the principal of Ely & Company, Inc., where he monitors conditions in the banking industry, monetary policy, the payments system, and the growing federalization of credit risk.  Prior articles by Ely on banking issues, monetary policy, and cryptocurrencies can be found here.  Follow Bert on Twitter: @BertEly