It was the day after Lehman failed, and the Federal Reserve was trying to decide what to do.
It had been fighting a credit crunch for over a year, and now the worst-case scenario was playing out. A too-big-to-fail bank had just failed, and the rest of the financial system was ready to get knocked over like dominos. The Fed didn’t have much room left to cut interest rates, but it still should have. The risk was just too great. That risk was what Fed Chair Ben Bernanke calls the “financial accelerator,” and what everyone else calls a depression: a weak economy and weak financial system making each other weaker in a never-ending doom loop.
But the Fed was blinded. It had been all summer. That’s when high oil prices started distracting it from the slow-burning financial crisis. They kept distracting it in September, even though oil had fallen far below its July highs. And they’re the reason that the Fed decided to do nothing on September 16th. It kept interest rates at 2 percent, and intoned that “the downside risks to growth and the upside risks to inflation are both significant concerns.”
In other words, the Fed was just as worried about an inflation scare that was already passing as it was about a once-in-three-generations crisis.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]