February 9th, 2012
04:48 AM GMT
(CNN) – What does the U.S. Fed know that we don’t?
That is the question investors have been asking themselves ever since the central bank unveiled its intention to extend its plan to keep interest rates ultra low through late 2014. Why would they need to do that when the recovery seems to be picking up steam, as witnessed in the latest jobs report?
That is exactly what I put to Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker when I sat down with him in Washington D.C.
“It is not an unconditional pledge. I think that it is clear because everyone recognizes, on the committee and more broadly, if things pick up we can change paths and raise rates before that. Does this mean policy is easier than it otherwise would have been? I am not so sure,” said Lacker.
It should be no surprise Lacker feels this way. He was the lone dissenter at the last Fed meeting and has said he is uncomfortable with pinning policy on a calendar date. But that is not all he worries about.
"As a central bank we can not control the unemployment rate. We can mess it up and make it higher than it would otherwise be, but we have limited tools and a limited ability to make it lower than it would otherwise be." The jobs market he says will ultimately be determined by the real economy. “People have expected too much from the Fed. It is up to other policy-makers to aid growth.”
While additional stimulus is not officially off the table, after the strong January jobs report an additional Fed move isn’t likely anytime soon. "Given a growth picture between 2 and 3 percent, if we keep getting data like we've been getting, I don't see a rationale for additional easing at this point," Lacker said.
Lacker was very frank about his concerns, but that is very much in keeping with the new style Fed. Under Chairman Ben Bernanke the decision making process has been more transparent and Fed members debate issues more openly. It has caused some backlash, but as far as Lacker is concerned there is no such thing as TMI.
"I think more information is better. I think the more people understand our intentions the better. I think the more they understand the way you will react to incoming events, the better."
People may miss the comfort of a Fed that seemed mysterious and all-knowing, but that was never the truth anyway. A more realistic approach may reign in expectations that our central bankers can solve every economic ill and put more pressure on the politicians who have not been pulling their weight.
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