Interest rates

Has the United States ruined the era of low interest rates? — Quartz Brief of the weekend — Quartz

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Rising prices and the Fed’s efforts to combat them have put the economy in a difficult situation. A recession is looming if the global economy does not catch breaks in the form of unblocked supply chains, additional oil and gas production or a deal to allow Ukraine to export more wheat.

Like most problems, inflation is easier to solve in advance. The causes of today’s rising prices are not necessarily avoidable, but it is possible, even easy, to imagine that the US economy is in a better position to deal with this pressure. When historians assess US economic policy in the 2010s, they will see a decade of missed opportunities.

For example, if gas prices are the main issue today, wouldn’t it be better if the United States decarbonized its economy more quickly? If rent is a major contributor to inflation, wouldn’t more houses help bring it down? If the supply chain is blocked, would deeper ports and better airports help?

Looking back on policy debates over the past decade, it is increasingly clear that the decision to let public investment fall to its lowest level since World War II between 2014 and 2020 was a major mistake. The “jobless recovery” after the 2008 financial crisis left the Federal Reserve to hold interest rates near zero for five years before the slow rise began. These low interest rates have made public investment even more attractive than it might otherwise be.

To be clear, the idea of ​​a missed opportunity should not suggest that now is not the right time to invest in infrastructure. It would have been better to build now than not to build at all, but it would have been better to have started building five years ago.

The backstory

  • After the accident. When the mortgage bubble burst in 2008, the US government responded with a stimulus package that included just over $100 billion in infrastructure investment. Environmentalists, executives, city planners and farmers could all find reason to support spending on transport, energy, communications and even health and education infrastructure. An additional $300 billion package was passed in 2015, which everyone agrees fell short.
  • “Secular stagnation”. The budget battles of the 2010s (remember the Tea Party?) led to public spending caps. Economists began to worry about “secular stagnation” – a fear that globalization, slowing population growth and advanced technologies would lead to a permanent decline in investment. The Fed’s inability to meet its price target raised fears of deflation. The bipartisan desire for an “infrastructure week” has become a running joke under the Trump administration, but nothing has happened.
  • It’s pandemic time. The coronavirus pandemic has upended the global economy and unprecedented US relief spending has helped people pull through, but the booming recovery has led to the highest inflation in 40 years. Now, the rising cost of living is driving up Fed rates, but Chairman Jay Powell worries that the current drivers of inflation are spiraling out of his control. Wouldn’t it be nice if the US economy had just a little more transportation capacity, green energy and livable space to help ease the pressure?

📈 interlude

The US government is not investing as much as it used to, especially at the federal level.

Image copyright: Quartz

Declining public investment.

What to watch next

  1. Budget wars are back. The cost of government spending will be more visible in an era of high inflation and high interest rates, but even if they weren’t, a Democratic president and Republican congressional pollsters forecast in the fall that they will fight over taxes, expenses and… God help us all—the debt ceiling.
  2. How high will the rates go? The fed funds rate, at 1.58% today, isn’t that tight by historical standards, but the Fed expects it to hit 3.8%, last seen in 2005, by next year. But as we saw with the surprise rise of 0.75 percentage points instead of 0.5 this month, the central bank could react to signs of continued price increases with bigger hikes.
  3. How high will the rates go? Financial conditions are tightening and businesses are preparing for a recession by cutting costs. If the Fed halts rate hikes due to a recession and slowing price increases, the trends that drive the long-term neutral interest rate down could resume: an aging population, progress technology and globalization (probably!)
  4. There are investments going on right now. The US Congress passed a $550 billion infrastructure bill in 2021, and bully for them. While the invoice is important climate policies are missing and understand some mess, its successes and failures will influence future investment choices. A bad sign: inflation is already eroding how far money can stretch.
  5. The supply-side agenda. We talk a lot about build moreprogressiveness of the offer” And one “abundance program”. Will it lead to increased production of the goods and services needed to reduce the cost of living and fight climate change, or is it just a passing fad?

A 🚗 case study

A great case study in the power of timely public investment? The US government all but rescued Tesla with a $456 million loan after the 2008 crisis, a move decried by conservatives as government pick winners. Everyone won: Tesla went public, repaid the loan sooner and became a leading maker of electric vehicles, prompting other automakers to step up their commitments to green vehicles. Experts say a similar trick could help drive innovation in other aspects of green power, battery and carbon removal projects. Meanwhile, electric vehicles are approaching 9% of the global market sharewhich is small, but still means less competition at the pump and less emissions in the future.

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5 beautiful stories from elsewhere

🌲 Pine spirit. North Korea has an approach to environmental protection that deviates from Western-led multilateral governance, and it could be more effective and resilient. Thus argues Dylan Levi King in a Palladium essay that covers the mythological history of North Korea and its spiritual links with its natural world, a kind of “eco-theology”, which ideologically incorporates the motivation to preserve the environment.

💔 Highs and lows. The first 10 minutes of Pixar At the top (2009) brought more than one movie buff to tears. The ring enters the story behind the film’s prologue, which chronicles the life of Carl, the film’s main character, and the love of his life Ellie, as they grow from children with dreams of adventure to adults confronted with the sobering realities of life. More than a decade later, this sequence from the Oscar-winning film continues to move viewers deeply.

📉 Chip slip. America is a world leader in the semiconductor industry, but it is beginning to lose its edge. With a shortage of skilled labor and declining investment in startups and R&D, the United States will need to take swift policy action if it is to maintain a technological lead. Dylan Patel, author of SemiAnalysisdetails what’s wrong and what can be done to ensure this vital piece of technology receives government support.

🥩 Nothing biting. There was a big hype for the meatless meat market last year, with millions of dollars pouring in to fund new ventures. But the enthusiasm seems to run out of steam, Forbes writing, as sales stagnate in an overcrowded market. Having yet to find a formula that brings customers back for more, some businesses will likely hit a chopping block, and others will consolidate, to keep the meatless dream alive.

🌐 Web3-ism? There are parallels one can draw between Web3 and multi-level marketing (MLM), according to crypto writer Lars Doucet. In a guest post on NoeopinionDoucet gives his perspective on blockchain proponents and their similarities to members of “Amway,” a billion-dollar MLM program that consumed his own family in the 90s. from a lack of articulation about how the system works, to a stubborn belief in its potential, to a strong libertarian guideline and sectarian leanings, the two have more in common than one might think.

Thanks for reading! And feel free to send us any comments, questions, or topics you want to learn more about.

Don’t waste your weekend,

—Tim Fernholz, Senior Reporter