♪ >> Sillicon Valley bank has collapsed and federal regulators have taken control... >> ... any sort of contagion effect... >> Impacting tech startups... >> ... leaving customers in limbo... >> ... concerns about the broader economy.
>> If we hadn't been driving our economy with easy money Trying to really quickly un-do that we wouldn't be having these problems right now.
>> Americans can rest assured that our banking system is safe.
>> NARRATOR: In a special Frontline investigation >> We're now facing a world of many potential outcomes.
>> NARRATOR: The inside story of an age of easy money.
>> Every financial function had failed and we had to restore them.
>> Did you think it was a radical polocy?
>> I most certainly did think it was a radical policy.
>> ...the fed inject money into the economy... >> ...recent government stimulus programs.
>> When the Fed changes to the primary engine of economic growth, it's supposed to be our democratic institutions that do that, not the central bank.
>> NARRATOR: And an uncertain future.
>> Pain for American families.
>> It'’s not just that we'’re getting more calls, it'’s that the folks who are calling us are in greater distress.
>> NARRATOR: Correspondent James Jacoby Investigates.
>> How remote is the possibility that there could be much higher unemployment in the next couple of years?
>> I mean, I wouldn'’t say it'’s remote.
>> NARRATOR: Now on Frontline... >> It really is difficult to overstate how important this story is, and how much it matters.
>> I don'’t know if I can safely say that we'’re at the bottom because of what we're looking back at, this age of easy money.
>> Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell, speaking at an annual economic summit in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
>> Yep, we're on with him.
>> Powell and his colleagues at the Fed are under pressure to curb inflation.
Powell could take a harder line or he could simply play his cards close to the vest.
>> Here we go, he's on the move.
>> It's going to be a tough crowd at Jackson Hole because of the fact that he made a call simply last year that didn't age well.
>> Every year, the Federal Reserve holds an economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in August.
It's sort of like the Oscars of the Fed world.
And, you know, media comes from all around the world, and the Fed chairman gives a keynote speech that gets all the attention.
>> All eyes on Jackson Hole this morning.
>> He's giving a speech as central banker to the world.
>> So Jackson Hole plays a very important role in the central bank community, because you're basically bringing the central bankers of the world and economists to a place to discuss critical issues.
So people look to Jackson Hole to see, is there a reset in monetary policy?
>> The economy has slowed.
We're likely in recession and perhaps going deeper into it.
Are they gonna keep taking us down this road?
Are they gonna keep slamming the breaks on rates?
Raising 75 basis points until we've got job cuts across the corporate sector?
>> Central bankers were saviors post-global financial crisis.
This time, it was different.
The mood was more, uh, you know, for the first time, uh, we're failing.
>> Is Powell ready to risk recession?
This is the question.
>> Chair Powell, the floor is yours.
Please come to the podium.
(audience applauding) >> Jackson Hole in 2022 was quite important.
>> Thank you, Peter, and good morning, everyone.
>> The market were feeling in the summer that maybe the Fed would have a pivot, would stop raising rates, and maybe start cutting them.
>> The markets started talking about a Fed pivot.
>> ...the markets, though maybe they'll, they'll just ease up a bit.
>> The market is, I think, anticipating that they're going to blink.
>> Reducing inflation is likely to require a sustained period of below-trend growth.
>> And what Powell told them in Jackson Hole is that, "Listen, inflation is still way too high, "it's not peaking, it's not gonna fall fast enough.
"And if you guys think that we're gonna stop raising rates, or even cutting them, you are a bit delusional."
>> The U.S. economy is clearly slowing from the historically high growth rates of, of 2021.
>> I think the chair's objective at Jackson Hole was to deliver a very concise message that, "We know what our job is, "our job is to get inflation back down to two percent, "and we're gonna do what we need to do to get it back down to two percent."
>> While higher interest rates, slower growth, and softer labor market conditions will bring down inflation, they will also bring some pain to households and businesses.
These are the unfortunate costs of reducing inflation.
But a failure to restore price stability would mean far greater pain.
>> His remarks were remarkably brief for a Jackson Hole speech, and that was by design to deliver a very direct message.
And I think his message was very effective.
>> Some big... >> Pain ahead.
>> Pain for American families.
>> What he calls "some pain" means putting people out of work.
>> Jay Powell is not messing around.
And that is when the market kind of reacts and says, "Oh, my God, things are gonna change."
>> Restoring price stability will likely require maintaining a restrictive policy stance for some time.
>> If the Fed puts us into a higher-interest-rate world, it will change everything.
The financial system globally has been built around extremely low, ultra-low, interest rates for ten years.
All of these of things that got built up over the last decade are gonna have to be dismantled or changed.
>> We will keep at it until we're confident the job is done.
(audience applauds) >> We lived in a bubble, in a dream, and this dream in a bubble is bursting.
♪ ♪ >> Rising interest rates in the U.S. and many other countries are intensifying fears of a recession.
>> JAMES JACOBY: Ever since that Fed meeting at Jackson Hole, we've been getting mixed signals about the economy.
Is it bound for recession or is it in a booming recovery?
>> An economy with such a strong labor market is not in a recession.
>> JACOBY: At the center of the debate are the actions of the Federal Reserve, which seems to have our economic fate in its hands.
>> The Fed is trying to stop inflation.
But is the medicine worse than the disease?
>> JACOBY: Lately, it's been raising interest rates at the fastest pace in decades, trying to tamp down on inflation.
But for most of the past decade, the Fed was keeping interest rates incredibly low, trying to stimulate the economy, creating what has been called an age of easy money.
>> Tonight, the economic alarms are blaring.
>> JACOBY: For the past two years, I've been investigating the Fed and the far-reaching consequences of its easy money policies.
>> I'm game if you are.
>> JACOBY: I'm, I'm definitely game.
I've been speaking to current and former Fed officials.
Is that really the first time you're in a suit since COVID?
>> From the waist down.
>> Can I take my mask off?
>> JACOBY: Titans of finance.
You were thinking what?
>> I, I was thinking this is the craziest market I've seen in 40 years.
>> JACOBY: Those who follow the decision making.
>> None of us think about this, because it's boring, but it's everything!
It touches everything.
>> JACOBY: And those who have been hit the hardest by it.
>> It's like choosing between your rent and your food.
>> They do not understand what everybody is going through.
♪ ♪ >> JACOBY: The Fed's easy money experiment traces back to pivotal decisions made over a decade ago, in 2008.
>> Right now, breaking news here: stocks all around the world are tanking because... >> JACOBY: When investors, speculators, and Wall Street bankers nearly brought down the global economy.
>> Right, get on the train, otherwise it's going to leave the station without you.
>> ...with Wall Street shaken to its very foundation today.
>> We are in the midst of a serious financial crisis.
And the federal government is responding with decisive action.
>> The Bush administration... >> JACOBY: The president and Congress spent hundreds of billions of dollars to restart the economy, but at the center of the rescue effort was the Federal Reserve.
Richard Fisher was the head of the Fed's bank in Dallas at the time.
>> What the Federal Reserve does is provide the blood supply for the body of our capitalist economy.
And what happened in 2008 is, all, the veins and the capillaries and the arteries collapsed.
So every financial function had failed.
It had collapsed and we had to restore them.
>> We're at the precipice of the apocalypse.
>> We're on the edge of the abyss.
>> We are in the most serious financial crisis in generations.
>> There was nothing but panic yesterday.
There's been panic all week.
>> The bottom to America's financial woes appear nowhere in sight.
>> The banks are still not lending to one another, and as long as that's not happening, the system remains stuck and in peril.
(news reports overlapping) ♪ ♪ >> JACOBY: In normal times, the Fed's job is to promote employment and keep inflation in check, primarily by raising and lowering short-term interest rates, making borrowing cheaper or more expensive.
But amid the crisis, Fed officials decided to do something they hadn't done in half a century: they began dropping rates, eventually to almost zero.
>> Those massive rate cuts have not been stimulating the economy, so it's the other things... >> JACOBY: With Americans still suffering, and the banking system on the verge of collapse, Fed officials there at the time told me they felt compelled to go even further.
>> And then the question was, "What else can we do?"
And the committee came up with the idea of quantitative easing.
>> Quantitative easing-- what in the world is it that?
>> Quantitative easing.
That's just a Greek term to a lot of people.
>> A lot of people want to know what they're going to say about what we call quantitative easing.
>> JACOBY: Quantitative easing, or QE, was championed by Ben Bernanke, then the Fed chairman.
>> The Federal Reserve is committed to using all available tools to stimulate economic activity and to improve financial market functioning.
>> JACOBY: QE was an experimental way for the Fed to inject money into the financial system and lower long-term interest rates.
>> It's almost like alchemy.
You can create money out of thin air if you're at the central bank.
So creating more money puts more money in the banking system, put more money out there for the economy to take it and put it to work, and to grow, and to restore itself.
>> The Federal Reserve has been putting the pedal to the metal.
So we're doing everything we can to support the economy, and we hope that that's going to, you know, get us going next year sometime.
>> JACOBY: Their hope was that the new money would help shore up the failing banks and get them lending again.
It would become the heart of their easy money policies.
>> It was an emergency measure.
I mean, the economy was imploding.
I mean, no one would lend to anyone.
There was no ability to borrow.
There, the, the economy was going to be, uh, stopped dead.
>> JACOBY: Thomas Hoenig was the president of the Kansas City Fed and initially supported the quantitative easing plan.
>> These are trying times, and as you just heard, there is much to be done as we try and work through this financial crisis.
When you have a crisis, that's when you want your central bank to be willing to put cash in, and so to avoid a major depression, where everything just stops, you provide the cash.
So I agreed with, yes, we need to provide this money on the expectation that once we got through the crisis, we would go back to a more normal policy.
>> Again, you could tell me if I'm giving too long answers or what-have-you.
>> JACOBY: The task of managing most of the program went to Andrew Huszar, a former Fed official who was then working on Wall Street.
>> I realized very quickly what I was being asked.
I was being asked if I would manage the largest financial markets intervention by a government in world history.
>> JACOBY: The Fed began creating hundreds of billions of dollars to buy things like mortgage-backed securities and government bonds from banks and financial institutions.
>> This was a $5 trillion market.
This was the largest private bond market in the world, and the Fed had never once before bought a mortgage bond in its history.
And basically, in the fall of 2008, it announced that it would buy basically 25% of the entire market within 15 months.
>> JACOBY: And that was your job, to do that purchasing?
>> That was my job.
To think about how to get the program done.
>> Many of these tools had not been tried before.
They were definitely, like, break-the-glass kind of tools.
Like, what are we going to do in order to restart the economy here?
>> JACOBY: Sarah Bloom Raskin joined the board of governors while QE was already underway.
>> As QE began, it showed great promise.
We started to see that people's sense of economic well-being was ticking up somewhat.
People were finding jobs.
People were finding homes.
The foreclosure rate had slowed.
So there was a sense that something was working.
Now, how it was working was a different question altogether.
>> Things are not as bad, we're getting better, and things will get better-- there's no question about it.
>> You know, view it as, like, an experimental drug that actually is doing some good things, but nobody quite knows how or why at the moment.
>> JACOBY: The financial sector had begun to stabilize, but there were early signs that not everything would go according to plan.
>> The banking industry fat cats still aren't lending money.
>> Well, the big banks aren't lending.
>> JACOBY: Despite the money the Fed was pouring into the banks, they still weren't back to lending.
>> The government's not doing anything to help small business, and the banks are sitting on their butts, and they're still not lending money.
>> JACOBY: Instead, they were taking a lot of the money and investing it themselves.
>> The banking sector is broken.
It is not lending to small business.
Somebody's got to get the money there.
The government is the actor in this.
>> JACOBY: You were injecting money into the banks, more than a trillion dollars worth at that point, and what were the banks doing with that money?
>> The Fed's idea was, the banks would be taking that money and, and lending it, effectively, at lower interest rates.
What the banks were doing instead was that they were just investing in the same bonds that the Fed was buying.
They were taking that money and they were turning around and buying the same mortgage-backed securities and other bonds-- why?
Because the Fed had made very clear that its goal was to drive up the price of financial assets.
And so, Wall Street turned around and thought, "Why would I go through the effort "of making a mortgage, "when I can just press a button and buy, you know, "millions, if not billions, "dollars of, of bonds, and, and ride that trade, "as the price of those, those assets are very consciously being inflated by the Fed?"
>> JACOBY: Huszar grew increasingly disappointed by the program, and would eventually leave in 2011.
>> I hadn't seen the benefits accrue to the average American, and I wasn't seeing larger structural form in favor of the average American.
I began to question whether it was my role anymore to be at the Fed.
>> JACOBY: Were you seeing that the banks were gaming the Fed?
That they were, in some ways, taking advantage of this program that was intended to help the real economy?
>> I think you could say they were gaming the Fed, or I think you could just say that they have a different mind, and they're not part of the Fed, and they, they have their own interests.
You know, it's sort of like the Aesop's fable of the "Scorpion and the Frog."
You know, on some level, it's in their nature to do what's, what's in their nature, and their nature is to make the most money possible in the quickest way possible.
And just because the Fed wanted to do something, and wanted to help the, the average American, it doesn't necessarily mean that Wall Street has the same interests.
>> $20 billion worth of bonuses.
It is shameful.
>> Are these executives greedy or stupid?
Personally I am, am stumped for an alternative word.
>> There will be time for them to make profits.
And there will be time for them to get bonuses.
Now is not that time.
>> It's socialism for the rich!
>> JACOBY: By the end of 2009, the banks were back to making money-- and paying themselves record bonuses-- while the real economy lagged.
>> Washington loaned them money at cut rates, so our thanks is, they're going to stuff it in their pockets even as many Americans are suffering from unemployment and reduced wages.
>> People absolutely ought to be outraged.
I mean, these guys just don't get it.
>> JACOBY: The inflation rate was well below the Fed's target of two percent, signaling weak demand.
Unemployment had shot up, and foreclosures were continuing across the country.
>> (chanting): Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!
>> People had lost homes, household net worth had plummeted.
It really wasn't an inclusive recovery.
It was a recovery that benefited only portions of the economy.
>> I'm here to support all of the people who want their taxpayer dollars back, me included.
>> There was a sense that the banking sector, the financial sector, benefited primarily, and not so much everybody else.
And that had a, had a political taste to it, which became the basis, I think, for a lot of anger, and really set the stage for, you know, sort of the next chapter in our country's political history.
>> We have you surrounded!
Come out with the Constitution intact, you usurpers!
>> Demonstrators opposed to what they call out-of-control government spending began a series of rallies this afternoon.
>> JACOBY: The resentment helped give rise to the Tea Party.
>> ♪ We ain't going away ♪ >> JACOBY: Fueled by the belief that government spending and bailouts had been out of control and ordinary people weren't seeing any benefits.
>> Hedge fund bankers, Bear Stearns, they didn't build this country.
Workers like us did.
>> The only political constant in 2010 was volatility and anger.
>> (chanting): Hell, no, we won't go!
>> And there was a real loss of faith in the political and economic system.
And that manifests as the Tea Party.
>> Tea Party Americans, you're winning.
>> (cheering and applauding) >> You're winning!
>> JACOBY: They were especially outraged by the $800 billion stimulus package that President Obama and Congress had passed in 2009 to get the economy going again.
>> (chanting): Can you hear us now?
Can you hear us now?
>> The entire principle of the Tea Party, the entire platform, was to stop Washington, D.C., from intervening.
>> This is just the beginning.
>> It, it was an agenda of no.
>> We've come to take our government back.
>> JACOBY: As Republicans swept the 2010 midterm elections, aided by the Tea Party's growing influence... >> We need to restore fiscal sanity to this nation.
>> JACOBY: ...the prospects for Congress and the White House working together to pass another stimulus bill were growing dim.
>> Let this serve as a warning to Congress: we don't work for you, you work for us.
(audience cheers and applauds) >> JACOBY: Into the political vacuum stepped the Federal Reserve.
Was it palpable that the Fed was sort of the only game in town here?
The fact was, we were carrying the load all by ourselves.
>> Resurgent Republicans racked up huge gains Tuesday.
>> A devastating night for the Democrats that fundamentally changes American politics.
>> People are frustrated, they're deeply frustrated, with the pace of our economic recovery.
>> JACOBY: The Fed wasted no time.
The day after the midterm elections, they took a dramatic step: another round of QE-- not just to stabilize the economy, but to boost it.
♪ ♪ >> What happened on November 3, 2010, represents a step change in the Fed's role in our economy.
When the Fed changes from a central bank that manages the currency to the primary engine of economic growth in America, whatever your philosophy is-- small government, limited government, big government that hires people to go out and build roads to stimulate growth, whatever it is-- it's supposed to be our democratic institutions that do that, not the central bank.
>> JACOBY: You're basically saying that because our democratic institutions are so paralyzed, and there's so much political dysfunction, that we as a society, we as a country, have become overly reliant on the Fed to run things?
>> JACOBY: Yeah.
>> I think one of the most important things to think about is that our democratic institutions in America are becoming less and less capable and less and less effective.
I think that point is almost undeniable.
So what we're doing in this country is, we're relying on our non-democratic institutions to take up the burden, like the central bank in economic affairs.
Which leads you to the surreal place where we are today.
Where this committee of 12 people is making these decisions that could very well plunge our economy into a deep, deep, deep recession and cause financial crisis.
>> JACOBY: In the early days of the easy money experiment, Fed chair Bernanke promoted his plan, saying it would create a wealth effect.
That boosting the stock market would make people feel wealthier and start spending again.
>> There's no doubt that there's quite a bit of opposition.
>> JACOBY: But he was met with some skepticism and concern that the decision risked causing runaway inflation.
He went on television to push back on the critics.
>> ...they're looking at some of the risks and uncertainties associated with doing this policy action.
What I think they're not doing is, is looking at the risk of not acting.
>> QE2 has become a punching bag for everyone from top-tier economists to Sarah Palin.
>> JACOBY: Inside the Fed itself, Thomas Hoenig was sounding alarms about the long-term consequences.
>> You are the one member of the Fed that has been critical of zero-percent interest rates.
>> JACOBY: Over the course of 2010, he argued against Bernanke's plan at every meeting, and cast the lone dissenting vote eight times in a row.
>> It was difficult, but this was fundamental.
And so I really did think that it was a wrong policy and I didn't want to be associated with it, so I voted no.
>> JACOBY: Did you think it was a radical policy?
>> I most certainly did think it was a radical policy and I think most people did.
It was meant to be radical.
And so my concern was, we had come through a crisis, and we provided the liquidity necessary to come through it, and we were on the other side of that crisis.
The economy was recovering.
And yet we were engaging in a deliberate effort to have easy money.
>> JACOBY: What were you most concerned about if easy money continued?
>> I thought that it was unnecessary to do.
I thought it brought new dangers.
When you keep interest rates at zero, and you keep pumping money into the economy, you favor the debtor and you penalize the saver, which... You, you are saving for nothing.
I mean, you get nothing for that.
And if you're a borrower, well, life is good.
You borrow for nearly nothing.
So you, you actually encourage speculation.
You encourage additional risk-taking.
In fact, that's one of the reasons they did quantitative easing, was to encourage greater risk-taking.
>> The stock market rally on Wall Street today pushes the Dow to its highest level in nearly nine months.
>> That figure includes activity fueled by recent government stimulus programs.
>> JACOBY: The Fed's quantitative easing set off what would become the longest bull run in the stock market's history.
>> Investors took the good news, and, well, they basically ran with it.
>> JACOBY: By design, QE effectively lowered long-term interest rates, making safer investments like bonds less attractive and riskier investments like stocks more attractive.
>> The Fed goes out and buys certain kinds of assets, and it kind of puts a floor under the market, and it artificially pushes up prices.
And when I say artificial, what I really mean is, nothing changed at Apple, or IBM, or G.E.
It wasn't like somebody, you know, invented the new new thing post-2008, but a lot more investors got bullish in the stock market, so the stock prices of those companies go up.
But what's really happening?
Nothing's changed, nothing new has been invented.
It's a sugar high, it's like drinking a Coke instead of, you know, having a meat and potatoes meal.
>> You've got oil up, you've got gold up, you've got copper up, you've got stocks up.
Stock futures are up, all because of central banks and the stimulus that they're putting into the economies.
>> JACOBY: On Wall Street, no one seemed to mind.
The stock market rally continued.
>> The old saying is, "Don't fight the Fed."
>> Don't fight the Fed.
>> Don't fight the Fed.
>> Rule number one as a young trader you're taught is, don't fight the Fed.
>> I don't know what the hangover's going to look like down the road from all this extraordinary stimulus, but for now, the markets love it.
Don't fight the Fed.
>> Don't fight the Fed.
The one institution that has a printing press in the basement, and there's no limits to how much it can use it.
That is what makes the Fed such an influential player in the marketplace.
>> JACOBY: Mohamed El-Erian remembers it well.
He was running the largest bond fund in the world at the time and helped advise the Fed on its QE experiment.
>> Keep an eye on the Treasury market.
>> JACOBY: He shared with them his concerns that the markets were becoming dangerously addicted to the Fed's easy money.
>> To taper or not to taper?
>> JACOBY: His prediction played out in 2013, when, after multiple rounds of quantitative easing totaling more than $2 trillion, Bernanke signaled the Fed might start to taper off.
>> If we see continued improvement, and we have confidence that that is, um, uh, going to be sustained, then we could, in, in the next few meetings, we could take a step down in our pace of purchases.
>> I was on the trade floor.
I remember Chairman Bernanke saying that he would taper.
First we had to figure out, "What does taper mean?"
And the minute people realized what "taper" meant, which is that, that the Fed would step back from buying all these securities, and even though the Fed said it was going to be gradual, it was going to be measured, the markets had a massive tantrum.
>> The market selling off after Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said that the central bank could start tapering... >> It shows you how addicted the markets are.
The markets went into a fit.
It was known as the "taper tantrum."
>> Well, we all know it: when Ben Bernanke talks, and the Federal Reserve speaks, the markets listen.
>> Markets are like little kids.
They want candy, and the minute you try to take the candy away, they have a tantrum.
>> You have big Wall Street reaction, right?
You have extreme volatility, where Wall Street says, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, no!
No, no, unacceptable!
", and values plunge.
And of course, the Fed doesn't like that.
Nobody likes that.
That's a, that's a precursor to instability, right?
But it put the Fed in a real bind.
>> Chairman Bernanke.
(audience applauding) >> And Chairman Bernanke had to go in a conference in Boston and say, "No, no, no, we're not tapering."
>> You can only conclude that highly accommodative monetary policy for the foreseeable future is what's needed in the U.S. economy.
>> Every single time the Fed would start talking about, "Okay, we're gonna maybe taper back faster, or we're gonna think about raising rates," boom, stocks would correct, because stocks wanted that easy money dopamine hit.
(audience applauding) >> JACOBY: Bernanke's successor, Janet Yellen, had better luck the following year.
She was able to pause the quantitative easing part of the easy money policy without a tantrum.
In part, by suggesting she'd maintain the Fed's massive balance sheet of assets it had bought and to keep short-term interest rates low.
>> The F.O.M.C.
reaffirmed its view that the current zero- to one-quarter-percent target range for the federal funds rate remains appropriate.
>> JACOBY: The Fed justified its actions in part because the fears about runaway inflation hadn't materialized, and in fact, it was running below its target of two percent because economic growth was still low.
But Yellen's partial easy money pullback didn't dampen concerns and criticisms about the ill effects of the Fed's policies.
>> So you're doing a documentary on the Fed and monetary policy?
>> JACOBY: We are trying to.
>> (laughing): Okay.
>> JACOBY: Are we insane?
>> No, no, no.
I think it's a great idea.
>> JACOBY: Okay.
Joseph Stiglitz is one of the most well-known economists in America and a winner of the Nobel Prize.
>> The intention of the Fed was to stimulate aggregate demand.
>> JACOBY: He told me that while the Fed had done some good, he worried at the time that by stoking the stock market so aggressively, it was exacerbating economic inequality.
>> The main thing I was concerned about was that the way they were trying to revive the economy was a kind of trickle-down economics.
The way quantitative easing works is that it's a lowering of the interest rates.
That leads stocks to go up, and so... Who owns the stocks?
It's the people in the top.
Not just the top ten percent, one percent, one-tenth of one percent.
And so it increases enormously wealth inequality.
We had had increasing inequality really since the late '70s, and this was putting that on steroids.
>> JACOBY: What sort of response did you get from folks at the Fed to what you were saying at the time?
>> "Our mandate is to do what we can to increase employment, "to use the tools that we have, and that's what we're doing."
>> JACOBY: I heard a similar response when I raised these issues with the president of the Minneapolis Fed, Neel Kashkari, in March of 2021.
He was the only current Fed official who agreed to speak to us.
>> The Fed has been on a mission-- I've been on a mission-- to put Americans back to work and to help them get their wages up, especially for those lowest-income Americans.
And if it has had some effect on Wall Street, to me, the trade-off is well worth it if we can put Americans back to work so that they can put food on the table, they can take care of themselves.
That is profoundly beneficial to society.
>> JACOBY: One of the things that we have seen in this country is a widening wealth gap.
The question is what role, if any, the Fed has played in widening that wealth gap.
>> Well, this is a great point, and I'm glad you raised it.
Most people who make this argument ignore the fact that for many Americans-- they don't own a house, they don't own stocks, they don't have a 401(k)-- the most valuable asset they have is their job.
So by putting people back to work and helping to boost their wages, we are actually making their most valuable asset more valuable.
>> Middle-class economics works.
>> President Obama today in Wisconsin fired up over jobs.
Another 223,000 added in June.
>> JACOBY: In fact, by 2015, the employment numbers were improving dramatically.
But critics I spoke to said the Fed's focus on jobs was missing the full picture.
I mean, Neel Kashkari told me... >> Yep?
>> JACOBY: ...that a job is a great asset.
>> (chuckles) >> JACOBY: That, that when I... >> His, his may be.
I'm not so sure that's, that's true for the folks working three jobs behind the counter at the supermarket.
Sorry, Neel, I think that is an elitist assumption of what labor income is good for.
>> JACOBY: Karen Petrou is an unlikely critic of the central bank.
We've got, we've got Pete here.
>> Go lie down.
>> JACOBY: She spent her career inside the financial system... >> Down!
>> JACOBY: ...advising banks and big investors.
There we go.
>> Interview here, take five marker.
>> JACOBY: 2015 to 2020 was actually considered a time of recovery.
Unemployment was getting to record lows and there was kind of a conventional wisdom that the economy was in a good place at that point in time.
So you disagreed with that.
>> I did because most Americans disagreed with that.
The majority of Americans said they were economically anxious.
Significant percentages of people who were in the statistical middle class were skipping medical treatments because they didn't think they could afford them.
40% of the United States didn't have $400 in a rainy day fund, and they were at risk of imminent financial peril if a tire blew.
And that's not, that's not a good place.
>> JACOBY: What about this idea that there was record unemployment?
>> Record unemployment was judged the way conventionally the Fed chooses to judge it, not by taking into account the people sitting out working because they couldn't get enough wages with their jobs to make going to work pay.
Employment was fine, so-- by at least some numbers.
And people work to eat, they don't work because of some, you know, noble ideal.
>> JACOBY: So just to understand, what was wrong with the models that the Fed was using in order to judge the success of their programs?
>> Paul Krugman, a well-known economist, has a great example.
You've got four guys in a bar, each one of whom is making six, $60,000 a year.
Jeff Bezos walks into the bar and he's making two gazillion dollars.
Does that mean that the four guys in the bar are doing any better?
No, it doesn't, it's distorting statistics.
You have to look at how much each person has, not at what the averages are, to understand what's going on in the economy.
And when four out of five guys in the bar are not doing well, the country isn't doing well.
(rock music playing) >> JACOBY: The growing sense that the system was not working for the poor and middle class became a central theme of Donald Trump's populist campaign.
>> Sadly, the American dream is dead.
>> When you have a society with the middle struggling and the rich realizing, like, almost unimaginable gains, it starts to corrode the civic foundation.
>> We have to clean up the country.
Our country is a mess.
>> People start to feel like this cliché you hear all the time, that the system is rigged.
>> Like he says, I think the system is rigged.
>> You know what?
>> He's just speaking what we're all thinking.
But he's saying it in the public domain; he's saying it in the political domain.
>> You know, the fact that a huge portion of Americans were willing to vote for a president like Donald Trump, whose, like, entire campaign seemed to be burning down the system... >> We are going to... (audience joins in): ...drain the swamp!
>> ...that doesn't just happen in a vacuum.
>> (chanting): Drain the swamp!
>> We are going to fix our inner cities, and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals.
>> JACOBY: It was a moment of potential for the Fed's easy money policies.
Trump promised to take advantage of the low interest rates and create jobs by investing in new infrastructure.
>> We will create millions of new jobs and make millions of American dreams come true.
>> JACOBY: But once in office, the political paralysis in Washington only intensified... >> Congress simply hasn't been willing to find the amount of money necessary to do it.
>> JACOBY: ...making big economic investments all but impossible.
>> There just wasn't the political cohesion to push through these major programs.
And you saw a lot of op-eds by a lot of economists.
And even Fed bankers themselves, after the first or second, or certainly third and fourth round of quantitative easing, they were saying, "Please, give us some fiscal policy," meaning, "Give us some government action "to direct this money to the right places.
"We can't do all this alone-- we can keep rates low, "we're trying to keep rates low here, "trying to keep confidence high.
"But we can't make you spend on a bridge, or, or revamp a school."
>> JACOBY: Are you saying that there was sort of a, a squandered opportunity here?
>> 100% it was a missed opportunity.
We didn't use the cheapest money in memory-- I don't want to say in history, but certainly in the last, you know, several decades-- we didn't use that opportunity to spend on the things that would have been almost free in terms of debt.
We really missed something that now will be more costly, because now that interests rates are going up, I still think, for example, we should do more infrastructure spending.
That we should revamp education.
But it's going to be more costly to do it now.
(band playing "Hail to the Chief") >> It's the largest-- I always say the most massive-- but it's the largest tax cut in the history of our country and reform, but tax cut.
>> JACOBY: The marquee legislative achievement to the Trump administration would instead be a tax cut that further boosted the markets and deepened economic inequality.
>> That's your bill.
>> JACOBY: The jury is still out on whether it contributed to the economic growth that had started to tick up during the Trump presidency.
But to some inside the Fed, it seemed like an ideal time to pull back on the easy money experiment.
One of them was Jerome Powell.
>> It is my pleasure and my honor to announce my nomination of Jerome Powell to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve.
>> Thank you, Mr. President.
(audience applauding) >> JACOBY: Trump appointed Powell in late 2017.
>> Jay Powell is a profoundly competent, smart guy who has spent his entire career at the nexus of big money and big government.
>> In the years since the global financial crisis ended, our economy has made substantial progress toward full recovery.
>> A self-acknowledged Republican.
He's a conservative.
He tends to embrace the deregulatory view of the economy, and he's also a Wall Street guy who, who came up through the business of corporate debt and deal-making.
>> The Fed is seen continuing to raise interest rates going forward.
>> JACOBY: The Fed had already begun raising rates and reversing QE.
They'd call it quantitative tightening, or QT.
Powell took office eager to accelerate the effort.
>> The really extraordinarily accommodative low interest rates that we needed when the economy was quite weak, we don't need those anymore-- they're not appropriate anymore.
>> JACOBY: Once again, the market threw a tantrum.
>> The Dow closing down more than 500 points today.
>> A brutal week in the market.
The Dow and the S&P now on track for their worst December since the Great Depression.
>> The global financial system short-circuits.
>> The decline will accelerate if Jay Powell doesn't walk things back.
>> Doesn't walk things back.
>> JACOBY: The president threw a tantrum, too.
>> I think the Fed has gone crazy.
It's a correction that I think is caused by the Federal Reserve.
If the Fed knew what it was doing, they would lower rates and they would stop quantitative tightening.
>> The president has been attacking the Fed chair on Twitter very often for raising interest rates, even though the rest of the Fed is raising rates along with Jay Powell.
>> In the tweet, he said "Quantitative tightening was a killer, should have done the exact opposite."
>> JACOBY: Powell would change course.
>> The Federal Reserve cut a key short-term interest rate today after raising it as recently as December.
>> You see this complete reversal and what a lot of investors and economists saw as a capitulation to financial markets.
Financial markets don't like this so the Fed's gonna reverse course.
And that has defined Chair Powell ever since then.
>> A tricky balancing act for Chairman Powell.
He'll now face criticism that the Fed has bowed to pressure from the White House, or Wall Street, or both, sacrificing the central bank's precious independence.
>> The Fed blinked and the Fed reversed course when the market was down sort of 20% and went from tightening policy to easing policy.
And it became very clear to the market that saving the stock market was now one of the Fed mandates.
And I think that had really ominous ramifications for the future.
>> JACOBY: By 2019, the Fed's easy money experiment had been going on for a decade.
>> ...the Fed's job isn't to help the president of the United States... >> JACOBY: What had started out as an emergency measure to save the economy had become the status quo.
>> Yes, quantitative easing is there, but it's a tool you don't want to overdo.
>> JACOBY: And it was deepening the concerns about how the Fed was fueling troubling trends.
Taking advantage of the Fed's low rates, private equity firms had been buying up huge swaths of the economy with borrowed money... >> $110,000, $128,000.
>> For multibillion-dollar private equity firms, this is a bargain.
>> JACOBY: ...concentrating wealth and ownership of everything from houses to hospitals.
>> Across Blackstone we own a range of things.
So SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Birds Eye Foods, Michaels stores, Hilton and Waldorf.
What we like to do is come in and buy either real estate or companies.
We see an opportunity to grow something faster, to invest capital, fix whatever that is is broken, and then sell it.
>> JACOBY: The Fed's policies had also been fueling a frenzy in Silicon Valley.
>> WeWork has announced it's received a massive $4.4 billion investment from SoftBank Group.
>> JACOBY: Leading to all sorts of excesses.
>> Venture capitalists pumped nearly half a billion dollars into the food delivery start-up industry.
>> Airbnb is now valued at $10 billion, more than big hotel chains including Hyatt and Wyndham.
>> JACOBY: And enabling certain tech companies to disrupt and dominate entire industries without ever turning a profit.
>> WeWork is saying its total opportunity is $3 trillion.
I mean, that's three-and-a-half percent of the entire world's GDP.
♪ ♪ >> JACOBY: But perhaps the most destabilizing consequence to the economy was how the Fed's low interest rates had been incentivizing public companies to take on more and more debt.
>> Valuations are generally elevated, especially corporate debt.
>> We have flagged the rise in corporate debt.
>> We have entirely too much corporate debt out there.
>> JACOBY: I saw numerous studies and reports detailing the extent of the debt, and how even marquee companies were becoming so leveraged, their credit ratings plummeted.
The Fed had hoped that companies would put all that borrowed money to good use and invest in their workforce and their infrastructure.
But, in reality, it played out differently.
>> Buying back stock.
>> Stock buybacks.
>> Stock buybacks robbing the American worker.
>> JACOBY: Companies were often borrowing money to buy back their own stock, making the remaining shares more valuable and the prices higher.
>> As a corporation, you realize all that matters is the stock price.
So what do we have to do to increase the stock price?
And more often that is buying back the stock.
So it used to be, the Fed would lower interest rates, businesses would then take on more debt, they would use that debt to hire more workers, build more machines and more factories.
Now what happens is, the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates, businesses use that to go out and borrow more money, but they use that money to buy back stock and invest in technology that will eliminate workers and reduce employee headcounts.
They use that money to give the C.E.O.
and other corporate officers big bonuses, and then eventually, issue more debt and buy back more stock.
So it's this endless cycle of things that are designed to increase the stock price rather than improve the actual company.
just authorized a $50 billion stock buyback.
>> JACOBY: The numbers were astounding: more than $6 trillion in corporate buybacks during this easy money decade after the financial crisis.
>> $50 billion stock buyback.
That makes a big deal, a big difference to the stock price.
>> Buybacks were an embarrassment.
And so it's just another example of things that used to be viewed as kind of "ew," you know, just going mainstream.
>> JACOBY: Sheila Bair, a former top banking regulator, was issuing public warnings at the time that the Fed was incentivizing bad behavior on Wall Street despite its best intentions.
>> I can't fault the companies so much because these interest rate, this interest rate environment creates very strong economic incentives to do exactly what they're doing.
It's hard to create a new product.
It's hard to come up with a new idea for a service.
It's hard to build a plant, and hire people, and run the organization.
It's real easy to issue some debt and pay it out to your shareholders to goose your share price.
That's real easy to do, but it doesn't create real wealth, it doesn't create real opportunity.
It doesn't create jobs.
It doesn't improve the labor market.
But it's just another example of how these very low interest rates have really distorted economic activity, and frankly, been a drag on our economic growth, not a benefit.
>> (chuckling): Warren Buffett likes Apple's buybacks.
>> Well, why wouldn't he?
He's a shareholder and they're buying back $100 billion in stock.
>> When you get an age of easy money like what we've seen, you get a financialized economy that's really more in service to itself.
So, most of what it's doing is buying and selling existing assets, rather than helping real businesses and real people make real investments.
But one of the things that's so diabolical, I would say, about easy money, and our financialized economy in general, is that we're all in it.
We're all part of this Faustian bargain of pretending that there's something wonderful happening in the real economy, when really it's just Wall Street going up.
But we all kind of want the market to go up, because we're in it, with our pension funds, and with our 401(k)s. So everybody's money is kind of helping to push this whole cycle along.
>> JACOBY: Even some of the largest beneficiaries of this trend told me it made them uncomfortable, like legendary investor Jeremy Grantham.
>> In my career in America, the percentage of GDP that goes to finance has gone from three-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half.
(chuckling): We're, in a way, we're like a giant bloodsucker, and we have more than doubled in size, and sucking more than twice the blood out of the rest of the economy.
And we do not generate any widgets.
We do not generate any, any real increase in income.
We are just a cost.
>> JACOBY: When you say "we," you mean you and other members of the financial community have been this kind of "bloodsucker" on the economy?
Is that, is that what you're saying?
>> Yes-- collectively, we fulfill a completely necessary service, but what we have done is created layers upon layers of more and more convoluted, expensive financial instruments.
And that's what makes all the profits for the financial industry.
And it's, it's taken a lot of ingenuity and salesmanship to make this happen.
And a lot of lobbying in Congress, et cetera, et cetera.
And we have imposed on the rest of the economy the idea that banking and finance are utterly important at all times.
If, if you do anything wrong to us, the entire economy will collapse in ragged disarray.
>> JACOBY: Corporate buybacks, the elevation of corporate debt.
How was that viewed by you and others at the Fed?
>> Something we pay a lot of attention to.
But when companies are buying back their stock, one of the things they're telling us is, "We don't have profitable places to invest, and it's easier for us just to buy back our stock."
That's concerning in terms of the future of our economy, but that's not because of the Fed.
So we pay attention to it, it really matters, but I, in my view, we don't, it's not something we control.
>> JACOBY: Kashkari and others have pointed out that it's the job of Congress and regulators to address some of these concerning trends.
And when we sat down in 2021, he was quick to dispute the criticism that the Fed's policies had really just been boosting financial markets and helping Wall Street.
We hear it all the time from Wall Street people, that, that, basically, that prices are of, are completely untethered from some fundamental reality.
There is this idea on Wall Street that, "The Fed kind of has our back," and that because you may have well-intentioned policies that are trying to get everybody to work, there is this side effect, this unintended side effect, of just kind of really helping the rich.
>> That argument ignores the benefit to the poor.
And sure, if you're going to ignore the benefit to the poor, then we're only helping the rich.
But, of course, that's an incomplete analysis.
When you actually sit down and say, "Well, let's go through the trade-offs "of the choices that the Fed has, whether it's interest rates or it's quantitative easing," it's not just about Wall Street.
It's not just about asset prices.
It's also about thinking about the men and women in America who are trying to find work, and who want to have higher earnings, and who deserve higher earnings.
If we are benefiting them by helping them find work and helping them have higher wages, I will take that trade-off.
>> JACOBY: Beyond the debate over the effects on Main Street, there were increasing concerns about the risks on Wall Street.
What would happen to all those companies that had gone deep into debt-- and their investors-- if there was a downturn?
♪ ♪ But some of the most dire warnings were about a largely unregulated sector of the financial world that had become a key player in all the borrowing going on.
>> Finance was getting bigger and bigger and riskier and riskier.
And then there was something else going on that was only noticed later on.
The risk had migrated to what we call the non-banks, so the financial system that are not banks, and it had morphed, it had changed.
And in doing so, the ability to understand what was going on came down, because the non-banks are not supervised and regulated as well as the banks.
The phrase that was used at the time was "shadow banking."
That there were banking activities happening, but they were happening in the shadows, in the shadows of the banks themselves.
These are the asset management companies, these are the hedge funds-- these are not well regulated, but suddenly become systemically important.
>> JACOBY: When it comes to shadow banks, what was your big concern?
>> The core of the problem of the shadow banking system is that it's extremely fragile.
>> JACOBY: Lev Menand, who'd been an economic adviser to the Fed and Treasury Department, was warning that, even though Congress had imposed regulations on big banks after the financial crisis, shadow banks were largely untouched and they were endangering the whole system.
>> Anybody who is an investor in a shadow bank, who has their money in a shadow bank instead of a real bank, is going to have an incentive to withdraw in the face of any uncertainty.
So little economic shocks that cause asset prices to fall have the potential to trigger runs and panics.
And so what we've, what we've done is, by allowing this shadow banking system to develop, is, we've inserted a source of instability in our entire economic system that doesn't need to be there and that has the potential of throwing us all off course.
>> Let me start by saying that my colleagues and I strongly... >> JACOBY: That potential instability posed by the shadow banking system was on the Fed's radar.
>> How are you thinking about potential risk bubbling up in the, in the broader shadow banking system?
>> You know, this is, this is a project that the Financial Stability Oversight Council is working on now.
And also the Financial Stability Board, globally, is looking carefully at leveraged lending.
And, you know, we're, we think it's something that requires serious monitoring.
>> JACOBY: But by the end of 2019, little action had been taken by the Fed, financial regulators, or Congress to rein in the shadow banks and other growing risks.
The system remained vulnerable to a shock.
It would arrive in early 2020.
♪ ♪ >> A preliminary investigation into a mysterious pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan, China, has identified a previously unknown coronavirus.
>> When the pandemic hit, it was so unlike anything any of us have experienced in our lifetimes.
>> Already, 45 cases have been reported in China, including two deaths.
The victims are thought to have contracted the virus in a meat and seafood market.
>> We'd been paying attention to what was happening in China for a few months.
>> There are new images out of Wuhan that purport to show the dire conditions in hospital.
>> I was calling my contacts, global businesses that had big operations in China, to understand what their employees and staffs were seeing.
And we were all trying to learn as much as we can about pandemics and what it's likely going to mean.
>> Major selloff across Europe this morning.
>> I think we all figured out very quickly the pandemic and the virus would drive the economy.
>> Investors are spooked by the growing number of infections outside China.
>> But how fast would it hit us?
What would the healthcare response be?
It was maximum uncertainty.
And you were seeing that uncertainty manifest in financial markets.
>> What you have here are concerns, fears, worries, and deep uncertainties about what's likely to happen next.
>> People were scared.
Investors were scared, individuals were scared.
And they said, you know what?
I just want cash.
>> Markets giving us the worst two-day point drop ever in history.
>> I don't even want treasury bonds, I don't even want corporate bonds.
I don't want stocks.
I just want cash.
And when everybody in the economy says "I want cash" at the same time, that leads to, potentially, a collapse of financial markets.
>> On the bell!
On the bell!
(bell rings) >> Means the first circuit breaker has been triggered.
>> For whom the bell tolls.
>> I knew we were going to (indistinct).
>> JACOBY: All the weaknesses of the system that had built up over the years of easy money were being exposed.
>> Market functioning was starting to cascade into failure.
>> The Dow plunging again today, the eleven-year bull market has ended.
>> Stocks were just on a downward freefall.
You had credit markets seizing up.
People were selling anything that wasn't nailed down.
>> I can't do anything, I'm frozen.
>> You (indistinct) back in, you (indistinct) back in.
>> JACOBY: Attention was focused on the highly leveraged shadow banks.
>> What we saw was a full-blown panic in the shadow banking system.
It wasn't something that you have when you have a pandemic, when you have a bank panic.
It was, you have a bank panic, because you had some exogenous shock in the economy and you have these underlying vulnerabilities in your monetary system that you haven't resolved.
>> JACOBY: The Fed responded to this new crisis with an old tool-- once again, quantitative easing.
>> The Fed will try to steady the ship after a week that echoed the financial crisis of 12 years ago.
>> JACOBY: It bought up hundreds of billions in debt from financial institutions.
>> We have seen the Fed inject money into the economy in the last couple of days.
>> JACOBY: By mid-March, they'd made more than a trillion dollars available to the shadow banks, and they cut interest rates back down to near zero.
>> What that tells all of us is that the economic impact of the coronavirus is going to be crippling.
>> The Federal Reserve lent half a trillion dollars to securities dealers, half a trillion dollars to foreign central banks, bought $2 trillion of Treasury securities, another trillion dollars of mortgage-backed securities.
It flooded the zone with new government cash to stabilize this system.
>> Incredible effort from the Federal Reserve, taking major action to... >> Everything that Ben Bernanke's Fed had done over the course of the financial crisis of 2008, Jay Powell did that in a weekend.
The scary part is it wasn't enough.
The crisis continued and they had to intervene even further.
>> Good morning, we are here for you on this morning when the stock market has taken another dramatic plunge.
>> The emergency rate cut failed to calm investors.
In fact, it did the opposite.
Futures immediately dropped... >> JACOBY: Despite the Fed's actions, the corporate debt market froze up, and companies were unable to pay their bills, putting the wider financial system at risk.
>> There's just this corporate debt picture out there, and we're just beginning to see how those dominoes are going to fall.
>> Then comes the realization that we have to lock down.
>> The list of closings and activities being suspended is growing from coast to coast.
>> JACOBY: In the White House, Eric Ueland was the Trump administration's point person dealing with Congress on the response.
>> Every day, and into the evening, as we're going through and hearing more information and trying to explore the health side of this exploding virus crisis, there's also an economic impact that is just getting larger and larger and more significant, and so, what's the impact on a community when suddenly you're telling it a significant amount of economic activity needs to slow or actually cease.
That's pretty dramatic.
>> 3.4 million people filed for unemployment last week.
>> You can't really compare this to the financial crisis or even 9/11.
There's never been a time in history where the U.S. government told the economy to shut down.
>> They were talking about impacts on businesses, from small businessmen who are the real heartbeat of our economy, communities, and how to keep people employed.
What's the impact on industries and significant economic sectors of the American economy?
But the policy response that we need to design, and hopefully execute here, inside this crisis, is a lot broader than anybody conceived up to that point.
>> The motion is adopted.
(bangs gavel) >> JACOBY: In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the Trump administration and Congress would end up passing the largest economic stimulus ever.
>> All right, thank you all.
>> JACOBY: The $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which unlike after the crisis in 2008, was aimed not just at Wall Street, but directly at individuals and small businesses as well.
>> You encouraged your team to be bold, be brave and go big.
And we've certainly delivered today, $6.2 trillion.
>> You ain't seen nothing yet from what the Fed is about to do.
>> JACOBY: Part of the money would go to the Fed, which announced a new range of loan programs worth trillions.
And for the first time, it began buying up corporate debt.
The easy money experiment went into overdrive.
>> A guy inside the Fed was telling me that what they were doing was not that sophisticated.
They were just looking at any part of the market that looked like it was on fire, and dumping money on it.
>> We often talk about the Federal Reserve using a bazooka to tackle markets and the economy.
This is bazooka, cannons, and tanks all at once.
>> So this was huge.
This was the Fed stepping in on an unprecedented scale, and saying to the market, "We will do whatever it takes."
>> Many of the programs that were undertaken rely on emergency lending powers that are available only in very unusual circumstances, such as those we find ourselves in today.
We will continue to use these powers forcefully, proactively, and aggressively until we're confident that we are solidly on the road to recovery.
>> JACOBY: I don't think most people are aware that we came this close to a bona fide financial crisis.
>> Yeah, I think a lot of it is missed for two reasons.
One, there was a lot of other stuff going on in the news at the time.
The other is, the Federal Reserve did an amazingly good job at putting out the flames of this panic.
And even though the panic, in March 2020, was more severe along many metrics than anything we saw in 2008, the government's response was more powerful in certain respects, and we're lucky that the government was successful, or we could be living through a true depression.
>> Everything has been thrown at this market to try to keep it floating.
>> The Federal Reserve now getting into junk bonds.
>> It's a joke; the market is manipulated, you know?
They're printing trillions of dollars to pump up the value of publicly traded stocks.
>> JACOBY: In trying to keep workers employed and companies afloat, the Fed had also used its power to rescue some of the riskiest parts of the financial system, like the junk bond market.
>> Is this just like a high-yield junk bond bailout?
I mean, I don't get why this is an emergency.
>> We gotta live with it now, Tom, we gotta live with it.
>> JACOBY: To the critics, the Fed was rewarding the same players and practices that had helped make the system so fragile in the first place.
>> Over the years, we've been trained to believe that the Fed is on our side.
What the Fed has trained us to believe, is that if we make a bet in the market, and we win, we're on our own.
We get to keep the profits.
If we lose, they will bend every effort and every dollar they can get their hands on, one way or another, to bail us out.
This is asymmetry of the most splendid kind.
>> Hey Steve, go ahead and clap it off, please.
>> JACOBY: Billionaire bond investor Howard Marks called the Fed out at the time, saying it was undercutting the way the free market is supposed to work.
>> There are negative ramifications to this.
One called moral hazard, which means, uh, conditioning people to believe that if there's a problem, the government will bail you out.
And if people really believe that, then there's no downside to risky behavior.
Because if there's a problem, it won't fall on you, you'll get bailed out.
If you play it aggressively and succeed, you make money.
If you aggressively and fail, you'll get bailed out.
>> We are truly getting to a point of moral hazard.
>> We want to live in a world, do central banks themselves want to live in a world, where their interventions are so central to the market outlook and the market performance?
>> JACOBY: So has moral hazard gotten worse as a result of this bailout?
>> There's no barometer of moral hazard.
So I can't give you a reading.
All I can say is that for the last year or so, risk-taking has been rewarded.
And that tends to bring on more risk taking.
>> I don't think it's anything that investors should be applauding necessarily, because it's a nail in the coffin of capitalism.
>> This is gonna be a test for whether or not capitalism is just a callsign when CEOs are looking for bailouts.
>> Do you see moral hazard in what has just happened?
>> Oh, absolutely.
I think now, you know, the entire business community has had a taste of bailouts.
(laughs) You know, and boy, doesn't it work really, really nicely?
Yeah, so I fear that now, the Fed stepping in, not just to bail out Wall Street, but the entire, you know, corporate America, is starting to be embedded into people's thinking.
You know, people talk about the survival of capitalism, but this is the biggest threat to capitalism.
In good times, when anybody can make money, you reap those profits.
In bad times, the Fed, the Fed just keeps stepping in.
You have this never-ending ratchet up.
The markets never correct.
>> JACOBY: It's like a no-lose casino.
>> It is, it is a no-lose casino.
That's exactly right.
>> JACOBY: This is the second time in 12 years that you and your institution have had to funnel into the financial system trillions of dollars, and there is this sense that the financial markets have an iron-clad backstop from the Fed.
>> Well, I completely agree that it is unacceptable that 12 years after 2008, we had to do this again.
I am proud that we did what we did.
It was the right thing to do, it was necessary.
But it is unacceptable as an American citizen that we have a financial system that is this risky and this vulnerable.
>> JACOBY: But what, if any, responsibility or accountability does the Fed have for the financial system having been so risky and so vulnerable to a shock?
>> Well, I think all financial regulators that have a seat at the table have responsibility for what was left incomplete after 2008 and where we go from here.
We need to use this crisis to finish the work that we did not finish after '08.
>> JACOBY: With all due respect, I just, I wonder if you could be a little bit more explicit with me.
What will the Fed own when it comes to the vulnerability of the system?
>> Well, I reject the thesis.
I actually don't think it's been the Fed's monetary policy that has led to these vulnerabilities.
I think it's been incomplete regulatory policy that has led to these vulnerabilities.
>> The coronavirus pandemic has left millions of Americans out of work.
>> The people have gone now without four, five, or six or seven paychecks.
And it's starting to catch up.
They need food, it's the most basic thing.
>> JACOBY: In the months following the Fed's rescue, we saw a troubling disparity.
>> Have you got any income at the moment?
>> No, no.
And we have kids too, so.
>> JACOBY: As businesses were shuttered, and millions of Americans were living on the edge, the markets did indeed look like a no-lose casino, thanks to the Fed's safety net.
>> The economy may be facing major hardships, but the stock market is thriving.
>> The best quarter for the DOW in 33 years.
It surged 17%.
>> We ended up in a world where bad news was good news.
>> The unemployment rate is now a staggering 14.7%.
>> Bad news for the economy was good news for markets-- why?
>> In the midst of all the economic turmoil, Wall Street actually closed out it's best week in 45 years.
>> Because when people saw bad news, they said, "The Fed will have to do more."
>> And today the markets say, bring on the next quarter.
>> Then over the next few months, we saw one record after another in stock markets.
>> Stocks surging even as America enters its darkest chapter yet of this pandemic.
>> Even after the initial emergency passed, the Fed was pumping $120 billion a month into the economy through quantitative easing, on an indefinite basis.
The fire hose was simply turned on and left on the curb.
You know, the extraordinary measures of 2010 literally become the daily operating procedure in 2020.
>> The S&P 500 hitting another record high today after surging 55%.
>> The stock market didn't just regain all of its losses in a matter of months, but started breaking new records.
>> I see quite a bit of green on the markets this morning.
Dow, S&P, NASDAQ-- all of them higher.
>> JACOBY: Over the next two years, tech stocks would soar.
>> Apple is now the first publicly listed U.S. company to be valued at $2 trillion.
>> Tesla shares are soaring.
>> This company has just gone through the roof this year Stock prices quadrupled.
>> Right now, it's a seller's market, and homes are selling fast.
>> JACOBY: The price of real estate would shoot up across the country.
>> The housing market has never been hotter.
>> JACOBY: And corporate America would take on even more debt, which investors gobbled up.
>> Massive issuance of corporate debt... >> More than $10.5 trillion... >> JACOBY: For the richest Americans, it was an extraordinary time.
>> Mark Zuckerberg has increased his wealth during the pandemic by more than $37 billion.
>> Elon Musk has added over $10 billion to his wealth just this week.
>> Jeff Bezos reportedly earning over $50 billion this year.
>> Billionaires now hold two-thirds more in wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population.
Let that sink in for a moment.
>> Just the billionaires in the United States, from March 2020 to February 2021, have grown their wealth by $1.3 trillion.
>> It's the burst of euphoria that typically brings these things to an end.
>> JACOBY: But even some of those billionaires were worried the Fed was fueling a dangerous bubble.
>> The housing market, the stock market, and the bond market all overpriced at the same time.
If the Fed knew what it was doing, it would not allow bubbles of this magnitude to take place.
>> Smash the like button, invest consistently.
>> JACOBY: If the epic rise in the markets proved irresistible to millions of new small investors too.
>> So when a stock does well because of internal or external factors, you secure the bag, honey.
>> An app that's changing the way we do money.
>> All these brokerage platforms saw the largest growth of new users they'd ever seen.
Because people said, "Now's my opportunity.
"I'm gonna invest my money in the stock market.
"I may not understand "what the Fed's doing or how it works, or what exactly is going on."
>> The S&P 500 now on track for the best week going back since 2008.
>> "I understand the Fed takes action, "stock prices go up, these people get rich."
And it became a very clear mandate for people.
"If I want to get in on this economic recovery we're having, I've gotta buy stocks."
>> I'm gonna take my stimulus check and I'm gonna put it in the stock market.
>> So they're online, they're trading stocks, they're buying and selling, and putting money in these stock accounts.
They started creating their own community.
>> Welcome Declan, Michael Lee-- ah, so many people, Bob Smith.
>> Gotta get the Dow Jones up!
>> JACOBY: Fed Chair Powell became a kind of cult figure-- master of the money printer.
>> Money printer go "brrr."
>> Invest in these four tickers, I'll put it right above.
>> JACOBY: And billions poured into so-called meme stocks.
>> This GameStop situation, we will never encounter a setup like this again.
>> JACOBY: And new risky asset classes, like cryptocurrency, took on a life of their own.
>> Bitcoin... >> Bitcoin... >> Bitcoin has been on a wild ride.
>> It really is the new currency.
>> There's just too much money.
People just have so much money, and there's not really places to put it.
So what folks started doing is investing in these very speculative assets, things like Bitcoin, because they're just seeing ridiculous rates of return.
It doesn't really matter what the underlying value of the thing is.
Just like it doesn't matter what the underlying value of a company is, right?
As long as the stock price goes up, you want to buy, 'cause the stock is gonna keep going up, and then you'll sell.
It's the greater fool theory of investing.
>> Cryptocurrency... >> Cryptocurrency... >> Cryptocurrency?
>> Cryptocurrency... >> Blockchain technology.
>> That's actually... this is actually a very comfortable chair.
>> JACOBY: Crypto was all the rage in Hollywood where actor Ben McKenzie saw celebrities pushing it on an unsuspecting public.
With reporter Jacob Silverman, he began raising alarms.
>> Crypto exchanges primarily were driving the advertising dollars here so, you know, it's not unreasonable to think these folks got paid, you know, not just multiple millions of dollars, but potentially tens of millions of dollars to sell this stuff.
>> Bitcoin is a new kind of money.
>> Cash into crypto.
>> What's up?
>> I'm getting into crypto with FTX, you in?
>> History is filled with almosts.
>> When you're talking about an ad like the Matt Damon ad, that went viral, and not in a good way, what does he work, one day?
He walks around a studio and points at stuff that isn't there, and talks about how brave you need to be to buy crypto, it's a pretty easy pay... paycheck.
>> Fortune favors the brave.
♪ ♪ >> I certainly understand how easy it is to get lured in to cryptocurrency, especially when you see, at least for one brief, shining moment, all of your friends and neighbors or people you follow on social media getting rich.
Of course you're gonna try.
>> JACOBY: How does the Fed figure into this?
Was there just so much money sloshing around that it needed to go somewhere, and crypto was one of those places where it just was, like, "All right, we'll throw it in there"?
You know, when money is cheap, people gamble.
It's just undeniable-- and fraud runs rampant.
>> You would hear even within crypto circles people start talking about Ponzi schemes in a non-derisive way.
Saying, "Well, maybe we're doing new types of economics."
They're all forms of, kind of, irrational thinking and rationalization also that come together to help sort of conjure this illusion that there's value here until something pops it.
>> Sound speed.
(indistinct chatter) >> JACOBY: The number of serious investors, like Jim Chanos, began speaking out.
(clapboard clacks) >> It just became this orgy of speculation by the first half of 2021.
Anyone who wanted to raise money for anything could do so.
You know, the amount of, of fraud we saw being floated on top of legitimate companies was really concerning.
Particularly in places like the crypto space, which was sort of not being regulated.
People were creating new coins or NFTs and selling them to the public, who was eager to get in on the latest fad.
And that, that bothered me.
>> JACOBY: And you would draw a direct link between what the Fed was doing and the crypto craze?
>> Well, I just mean, it was all part of speculation that was... led to, to people doing really silly things with their money.
At the end of bull markets, at the end of speculative markets, you know, all kinds of crazy schemes get floated to separate people from their money.
>> At least these are different questions, not the same question over and over again.
>> JACOBY: Was last time the same question over and over?
>> It was the same question for 90 minutes.
>> JACOBY: I don't know about that.
>> Yes-- trust me, I have a tape of it.
>> JACOBY (voiceover): When I sat down with Neel Kashkari again recently, I asked him how the madness in the markets looked to the Fed.
It kind of was mania at the time, but the Fed was continuing to flood the markets with liquidity, with, with money.
Did you not see all of that mania as a sign of overheating?
That an indicator in the markets was telling you something about, you know, what was happening in the economy?
>> Yeah, I mean we see froth in financial markets not infrequently-- there've been other times when we've seen booms in financial markets.
If we are going to try to raise interest rates to control excitement in the stock market, the cost-- who's gonna bear the cost of that?
The people who are out of work today.
If we had said, "Let's go raise interest rates "to try to keep crypto down, keep Bitcoin from going too high," and we're gonna keep millions of Americans out of work as the way to do that, that strikes me as a bad trade.
♪ ♪ >> I think interest rates and inflation are going to rise well above what the Fed has projected.
>> JACOBY: As the markets were heating up, so were concerns that the Fed's policies would fuel inflation.
>> Prices are rising at the fastest pace in more than a decade.
>> JACOBY: But it wasn't just what the Fed was doing.
>> I'm going to help the American people who are hurting now.
>> JACOBY: The new Biden administration was sending $1,400 checks to many Americans.
>> Stimulus money from the latest COVID relief bill is arriving in bank accounts all over the country.
>> JACOBY: Extending unemployment benefits, tax credits, and other relief programs.
>> I think there's a real possibility that within the year we're gonna be dealing with the most serious incipient inflation problem that we have faced in the last 40 years.
>> JACOBY: Critics like former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers were publicly expressing concern that all the stimulus money from the Fed and the government would boost economic demand at a time when supply problems from the pandemic were still an issue.
>> People like myself, like Larry Summers and other, saw that, that massive stimulus, it was unprecedented, an order of magnitude greater than the one we had after the global financial crisis, would lead to excessive demand, overheating and inflation.
So we had an unprecedented fiscal stimulus, an unprecedented monetary stimulus, we had bail-out checks sent to everybody, every household, every firm, every financial institution.
It was too much, and should have been more selective.
>> There really just was all this money being pushed out in the economy-- at the same time, you've got the Federal Reserve, they're pushing out another $4 or $5 trillion into the economy, and so prices rose.
>> Core CPI inflation is set to rise sharply over the next three months.
>> This goes back to your economics 101 textbook, right?
When there's too much money chasing too few goods, prices go up, and that drives inflation higher.
>> JACOBY: It only took a few months for the warnings to come true.
>> It seems like everything across the board is becoming more expensive.
>> Gas prices going up, food prices going up.
>> JACOBY: But the Fed didn't flinch.
>> A surge in energy, housing, and food costs.
>> JACOBY: It didn't raise interest rates or pull back on quantitative easing.
>> The question now haunting economists is whether these price hikes are a pandemic blip or a sign of a long-term threat to the economy.
>> JACOBY: And they had a word for the highest inflation in more than a decade.
>> Transitory... >> Transitory... >> Transitory... >> Transitory... >> I know you believe this is transitory, but everything is transitory, life is transitory.
>> This inflation round is not transitory.
This is a very hot inflation environment and the longer the central banks wait, the greater the risk I reacted quite strongly to the assertion that inflation was gonna be transitory.
I remember warning at that time that we simply don't have enough evidence that it's gonna be transitory.
Transitory is a very reassuring term, because I tell you, "Don't worry about it, it is temporary, "it is reversible, therefore you don't need to change behavior.
So, yes, we have inflation, but don't worry."
>> JACOBY: What kind of evidence were you seeing that this may be stickier inflation than it is transitory?
>> One, what companies were telling us.
And companies were saying, "I am not sure it's transitory.
This is beyond the pandemic."
I was talking to CEOs, and they were giving me a very clear message, the same message that was in one earning call after another earning call; they did not view the disruptions as being transitory.
>> JACOBY: Why transitory, why that word?
What did you think at the time?
>> Well, we saw a number of factors that we thought were conspiring to lead to high prices and that many of those factors would fade away over time.
So for example, uh, supply chains, we saw were getting gummed up.
But we also know that businesses were working very hard to un-gum those up, to untangle those supply chains.
So we thought that they'd probably make more progress there than we expected.
>> JACOBY: The business round table, for instance, was coming out and saying, polling their CEOs and saying, "Look, we're seeing inflation everywhere in what we're doing, okay?
How does something like that land for you at that time?
>> I mean, I take it seriously, I don't dismiss it, but then I, I map it against the data that we're seeing.
>> JACOBY: Okay.
>> But I'll just say, we did not have an outlier view on inflation or the economy overall.
If you look at the consensus or forecasts among experts in America, on Wall Street, around the world, they all basically had the same forecast, which is inflation's gonna be transitory, it's gonna come back down-- yes, there were outliers, but if you look at the consensus, uh, we were well within the consensus of the experts who study this.
>> JACOBY: Any regret about not taking the foot off the pedal?
Seeing what, for instance, the federal government was doing at that point in time?
>> Well, I think, again, knowing what I know now, absolutely.
>> JACOBY: I put the same questions to Brian Deese, one of the chief architects of the Biden administration's $1.9 trillion rescue plan.
Were the inflation concerns at the time part of your internal deliberation about doing the, the rescue act?
>> It was an issue that we were always aware of and focused on, and weighing in the, you know, the weighing and balancing that you have to make when you do policymaking in.
in the face of uncertainty.
>> JACOBY: You're saying that you knew that that could be a potential tradeoff.
>> It was always a tradeoff, it was always a tradeoff and the logic behind our actions was to get ahead of the pandemic, help bridge for families and businesses and also ensure against the downside risks to our economy.
And I think if we look back now and recognize that the inflation challenge that the U.S. economy faces, is not unique; it is a global challenge.
Inflation is higher in Europe, in the U.K., today than it is in the United States.
>> JACOBY: Was there a concern at the White House that the Fed was running the economy too hot for too long?
>> That is a question that I will institutionally not answer.
>> JACOBY: Why?
>> Because one of the hallmarks of our system is the independence of monetary policymaking.
This has been something that you can't take for granted in our system, that prior presidents have not necessarily honored.
But this president, this administration is quite committed to the proposition that the strength of our system, one of the strengths of the U.S. economy is the trust that people have in the independence of our monetary authority.
And, therefore, we make deliberate choices to not make comments on questions like that.
>> We're going to begin tonight with the rough road to recovery for America's economy.
>> JACOBY: Through late 2021 and into 2022, stimulus from the Fed and the government would contribute to a rapid economic recovery.
>> As our economy has come roaring back, we see some price increases.
>> JACOBY: But inflation continued climbing at the fastest pace in decades, hitting the poor and middle class the hardest... >> You know these price increases will be a real impact on families and they're not going away anytime soon.
>> JACOBY: ...the people the Fed had hoped its easy money policies would help the most.
>> This is the epicenter of this rise in inflation.
>> The highest inflation rate of any major city in the country... >> JACOBY: No city had it worse than Phoenix, which had the highest inflation rate in the nation.
When I visited St. Mary's Food Bank, the cars were lined up first thing in the morning.
>> Every day, my key team, we get an email with the number of people that come through.
Yesterday was a 1,007 households.
And it's not people, it's households coming through, they're feeding four or five people.
And it's like, wow.
And that's five days a week.
They just don't have any other choice.
We're, we're hearing that their budget is, you know, is being eaten up by all the impacts of inflation, and it's either that or they don't have food for their children.
>> I'm a single mom so sometimes at the end of the month, I need the assistance.
>> JACOBY: Yeah.
>> 'Cause life has gotten a lot more expensive, and being a single parent, I can feel it.
Like, it's, it's like choosing between your rent and your food.
>> Like, yesterday I spent a hundred bucks just to get cereal, milk and bread and eggs.
And that was basically it-- and some lunch meat.
And that was a hundred bucks and that was our week's worth of food, and that's not gonna feed six kids.
>> JACOBY: When did you start seeing an increase in people coming?
>> It was the end of February this year, 2022.
We saw a slight uptick, didn't know if it was real, but it kept climbing, and it's climbed all through summer.
We thought that was a plateau, and then at the end of summer, it's continued to climb and here we are today with a thousand households coming through.
We've seen a 26% increase, year over year, in the number of people coming to us for help.
>> JACOBY: From 2021 to 2022?
And of that, 18% of the people are first-time people coming to the food bank.
>> JACOBY: Is what you're seeing now actually worse than what you saw at the height of the pandemic?
>> It is worse now, and it's worse because the food was more available during the pandemic.
We're seeing food availability going down.
What was once predictable doesn't appear to be predictable anymore.
And it's probably gonna get worse before it's gonna get better, unfortunately.
♪ ♪ >> JACOBY: What brings you here?
>> Just trying to get a little extra food.
Can't really-- you know, trying to stretch the dollar.
>> JACOBY: Yeah.
>> It's not hard to spend $200 at the grocery store and only have a week's worth of food for two people, you know?
>> JACOBY: Have you been coming here a long time or this is more recent?
>> It's more recent since probably the last six months I've been coming here.
>> JACOBY: Are you working or are you...?
>> Yeah, I'm working, but it's just not enough.
♪ ♪ >> JACOBY: We heard similar stories from credit counselors and their clients at a money management counseling center.
>> You know, we're getting all these folks who are telling us for the first time, they, they can't pay their bills, they can't make ends meet.
And often when they say that, they say I, I'm a good person, I've always paid my bills before.
>> With the inflation, they just have eaten away their savings, you know.
People have told me, you know, I did the three to six months of savings for an emergency fund.
>> JACOBY: So you're saying that it's not just folks that you're seeing that have had chronic problems with, with credit or, or... these are... there's a lot of new people that are coming to you now.
>> Lot of new people.
>> Yeah, these are folks who had been making it before, and were solidly middle class now, and today are, are struggling to make ends meet, struggling to keep their utilities on, struggling to stay in their, their apartment or their home.
And are really in danger of falling out of the middle class.
Like, it's a, it's a shrinking middle class problem.
>> JACOBY: How real are rent increases right now?
>> At a local shelter here in Phoenix, we've seen an uptick of new families and individuals coming in that just could no longer afford where they were living.
Because even where they were living, their rents increase $500 to $1,000 in one month.
>> Sometimes clients have called me, now and they're angry when they call, they need our help, but they're angry and I, I understand it.
They're ashamed and they're crying and all of that, but I was there, I, I was one of them, you know.
>> JACOBY: Are your numbers up in terms of people that are seeking out help at the moment?
>> So, it's not just that we're getting more calls, it's that the folks who are calling us are in greater distress.
Now instead of calling us because they're just behind on their credit cards, they're calling us because they're behind on their credit cards and they're behind on their utilities and they're struggling with their housing payment.
They are facing greater economic challenges, I think, and more diverse economic challenges than what they faced just a few years ago.
>> It's a different world.
But I have to tell you, I go to the store and I am just shocked.
I'm keeping my nose above the waves right now, but I feel like that wave is a lot bigger than I thought and it's behind me and it's coming.
♪ ♪ >> JACOBY: In the fall of 2021, with inflation at 6.8%, well above the Fed's 2% target, Chairman Powell acknowledged it might not be transitory after all.
>> Um, so I think the word transitory has different meanings to different people.
To many it carries a time-- a sense of short-lived.
We tended to, to use it to mean that it won't leave a permanent mark in the form of higher inflation.
I think it's probably a good time retire that, that word and try to explain more clearly what we mean.
>> JACOBY: It would be the start of a new phase in the easy money experiment.
>> The committee is determined to take the measures necessary to restore price stability.
Thank you, I look forward to your questions.
>> JACOBY: Over several months, they'd raise interest rates.
>> Good afternoon, it's nice to see everyone in person for the first time in a couple years.
>> JACOBY: In response to the rising inflation, the Fed would also pause quantitative easing and begin tightening.
>> At today's meeting the committee raised the target range for the federal funds rate.
We also decided to begin the process of reducing the size of our balance sheet.
>> Neither Powell nor any other Fed official has explained with any precision just how far the Fed will go.
>> The Federal Reserve raising a key interest rate three-quarters of a percent.
>> Its biggest hike in nearly three decades.
>> The Federal Reserve has raised its key interest rates again.
>> In a move that seemed unfathomable to many just months ago has now happened twice in a row.
(explosion) >> JACOBY: Other events, like the war in Ukraine... >> Russia picking off Ukraine's military facilities one after another.
>> JACOBY: ...lockdowns in China... >> China has decided to put it's southern tech hub Shenzhen under a citywide lockdown.
>> JACOBY: ...and companies raising prices... >> A little bit of inflation is always good in our business.
>> JACOBY: ...would all send inflation even higher, and accelerate the Fed's moves.
>> Chairman Jerome Powell speaking at an annual economic summit in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
>> JACOBY: Which brings us back to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in August 2022.
>> Yup, we're on.
>> JACOBY: An annual meeting of central bankers... >> Here we go, he's on the move.
>> JACOBY: ...where Jerome Powell signaled that he'd keep the Fed on course... >> He made a call, simply, last year that didn't age well.
>> JACOBY: ...raising rates to try to combat inflation.
>> While higher interest rates, slower growth, and softer labor market conditions will bring down inflation, they will also bring some pain to households and businesses.
>> JACOBY: How do you explain, for instance, to someone who is seeing their gas bills go up, their food bills go up, and groceries, their rents go up, how is it that higher interest rates and what you're doing with this very blunt instrument, how do you say that that's gonna help them, with those issues in particular?
>> Well, one of the reasons prices are high, is because there's too much demand in the economy.
And by raising interest rates, for example, we are gonna slow down demand for housing, people going out and buying up homes, which eventually should prevent home prices and rents from continuing to climb.
That should benefit workers.
But things like gas prices, that's not being driven by us.
I mean that's being driven by the war, Russia invading Ukraine, Saudi Arabia cutting back production, big geopolitical forces.
So there's some pieces of this that we can directly affect, some pieces of this are out of our control.
>> JACOBY: I mean some people have said you're kind of... interest rates are almost like a hammer, a sledgehammer, it's not like a scalpel.
Can these problems be solved with a scalpel or you really do believe that you need to bring the hammer down to some extent?
>> Well, here's the thing, um, I would love to be able to bring it with a scalpel, and a year ago, I argued, that I thought many of these factors were transitory, meaning you've got these one-time events, they're gonna pass, and then inflation will come down, so let's not bring out the hammer-- that was my view.
That didn't happen.
So, now we have to bring the hammer, because if we don't bring the hammer, this thing can get out of control.
>> JACOBY: So to those who point to the Fed and say, "You ran it too hot for too long, and that was an epic mistake," you say what?
>> I say look around the world; other central banks adjusted more quickly than we did, to their credit.
And, unfortunately, their economies are facing very similar inflation.
And so, yes, with the benefit of hindsight, I wish we had tightened sooner, but I'm not kidding myself to think it would have made a big difference in where we are in inflation today.
>> Stick around for just a second as we watch the clock here counting down to 2:30.
>> JACOBY: A month after Jackson Hole, I caught up with business reporter Chris Leonard, as the Fed was announcing another rate hike, moving at the fastest pace in 40 years.
>> Good afternoon.
Today, the F.O.M.C.
raised its policy interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point.
>> It can be a little bit hard to understand, because you hear, okay, the Fed hiked rates today to three-and-a-half percent.
What does that mean?
That my credit card rate is gonna be a little bit higher, or I'll have to borrow more money for a house?
He is talking about a fundamental restructuring of the financial system.
The financial system, globally, has been built around extremely low, ultra-low interest rates for ten years.
>> My colleagues and I strongly committed to bringing inflation back down to our 2% goal.
>> I think people don't appreciate the magnitude of what the Fed did over the last decade.
And so this is gonna be, like, a long-term thing playing out over time, probably over, like, a year or two, of shifting to a higher rate environment, and then the correction that that's gonna cause.
So, he's talking about a huge adjustment, that's not gonna be an adjustment upward.
Things aren't gonna get easier.
Things are gonna get harder.
>> Tonight, the economic alarms are blaring.
>> JACOBY: The specter of this kind of economic upheaval has heightened concerns about a recession.
>> The Fed has made it clear it's number one priority is fighting inflation, even if it means the jobless rate, unemployment, goes up.
>> Good evening!
Are we going to let this corporation stop workers from joining our union?!
>> JACOBY: It's also raised fears of layoffs, which has aggravated the organized labor movement.
>> I'm here with 12-and-a-half million union members.
>> JACOBY: Liz Shuler leads the largest union in the country.
She's been urging the Fed to slow down.
>> Listen to your workers!
(cheers and applause) >> We met with Chairman Powell and six board of governors, because I think the Fed doesn't often get to hear from actual working people and, and how they're seeing things in the economy.
>> JACOBY: What was your message for the Fed when they started to raise rates?
>> That raising the interest rates is bad for working people.
That we think it puts the trajectory that we're on at risk, in terms of coming out of this pandemic.
We know that we're in a consumer driven economy, right?
And if working people are not able to make ends meet, they're not gonna be buying goods.
And it's gonna grind the economy to a halt.
We can't take aggressive moves that are gonna throw people out of work, and basically balance the economy on the backs of working people.
>> JACOBY: But I mean, the Fed is tasked with controlling inflation, and, and inflation is definitely bad for working people.
So why advocate for the Fed to take its foot off the pedal?
>> Well, because the interest rate hikes they were implementing were happening quickly, and we thought it was happening too fast.
And also, though, their tools aren't necessarily going to impact the things like gas prices and food prices, which is what most working people are worried about.
>> The Fed doesn't ever want to say this out loud but their goal is, quite literally, to make businesses not want to hire people, or to get businesses actually to lay people off.
The Fed has estimated that the unemployment rate, under their very rosy projections, by the end of this year would rise to four-and-a-half percent.
There is no real way for unemployment to get from three-and-half percent to four-and-a-half percent without millions of people losing their jobs.
>> JACOBY: I understand the kind of, the best-case scenario being that you bring down inflation without unemployment going up, um, and that somehow we avoid a recession.
But if employment does stay strong and inflation stays high, then don't you have to basically hurt the jobs market?
I mean, isn't that the bottom line here?
>> We do have to... we are gonna have to keep raising rates until we get inflation back down, that is absolutely true.
And one of the sources of optimism and it's, you know, it's mild optimism, is when there have been recessions that have been caused by the central bank raising interest rates, the good news is, once inflation is in check and they reverse the policies, the bounce back can be very quick.
So we're not trying to engineer a recession, but if one were to happen, I feel pretty confident that we could have a very fast recovery.
>> JACOBY: So how remote is the possibility that there could be much higher unemployment in the next couple of years?
>> I mean, I wouldn't say it's remote.
It's, it's hard to put the odds on it.
>> JACOBY: Throughout 2022, the economy remained strong.
Unemployment reached historic lows.
>> Showing unemployment at a half-century low.
>> JACOBY: Wages were on the rise... >> We also saw some wage growth, about 5% annually.
>> JACOBY: ...causing the Fed to continue pumping the brakes to try to cool down inflation.
>> The Fed has been raising rates in hopes of slowing the economy, and with so many businesses still hiring, that means the economy isn't really slowing that quickly.
>> JACOBY: That riled Wall Street.
(bell ringing) >> Facing the growing possibility of a recession, Wall Street spent another day in turmoil.
>> And you're probably feeling it in those 401ks.
>> JACOBY: For the stock market and bond market, it was the worst year since the great financial crisis in 2008.
>> The NASDAQ down for four straight quarters for the first time since the dot com bust.
>> In 2022, we've had this very unusual situation whereby you've made double digit losses on both risky assets-- stocks-- and risk-free assets-- U.S. treasuries.
That's not supposed to happen.
But there's been absolutely nowhere to hide.
That is a big issue for retirement plans, pension systems.
No matter how well you diversified your portfolio, there was no risk mitigation in it at all.
>> JACOBY: It was all losses?
>> It was all losses.
>> U.S existing home sales plunged to a 12-year low in December.
>> You've seen a huge impact on the housing market.
>> The Federal Reserve's interest rate hiking cycle has pushed housing into a recession.
>> Housing prices have started actually coming down for the first time in a very long time.
Mortgage applications have decreased.
The crypto market, you've seen a number of companies wiped out.
>> Crypto winter is here.
That is not unrelated to what's happened with the Fed.
>> Sam, hold on to me, Sam, let's go.
>> Sam Bankman-Fried faces investigation from U.S. regulators and potentially the Department of Justice.
>> He invested $3 million into LUNA.
And now it's worth a thousand.
>> You create these asset bubbles-- that is bubbles in stock markets, and bond markets, and real estate markets and art markets-- whatever people invest their money in with borrowed money.
And then those bubbles burst and then that causes a downturn.
>> JACOBY: Steven Pearlstein has been reporting on the financial markets and the economy for almost 40 years.
>> Bubbles tend to be everything bubbles these days, because if the source of it is cheap money, then you can be pretty much sure that it's not just real estate, or it's not just stocks, or it's not just tech and telecom.
Or it's not just Bitcoin.
These things are connected by rubber bands with each other in a sort of way, and what propels one propels all of them.
>> JACOBY: There's a famous line by investor Warren Buffett... >> You know, you don't find out who's been swimming naked until the tide goes out.
And... (audience laughter) >> JACOBY: Almost everyone I spoke to repeated that line to describe what's been happening.
>> When interest rates start to rise, and the tide pulls out, as Warren Buffet would say... >> You don't know who's swimming naked... >> ...until the tide goes out.
>> You see who's swimming without a bathing suit... >> ...when the tide is receding.
>> We'll find out who's wearing their swimsuits when the tide goes out.
>> What's amazing is that a lot of people-- and I would say I'm included in this-- think that there probably will be a bigger correction at some point.
>> JACOBY: But, look, when you... when you say you expect there to be a bigger correction, what does that actually mean?
I mean a lot of people are gonna see this and get concerned about that, obviously.
>> Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Yeah, let me... let me try and be honest, but not scare people.
(laughs) >> JACOBY: Mm-hmm.
>> If that's possible.
So the markets were down 20% last year.
That seems like a lot.
And if we were in a normal market cycle, I'd say, "Okay, we're done, you know.
We're probably at the bottom."
I don't know if I can safely say that we're at the bottom because of what we're looking back at, this age of easy money.
Not just even since the financial crisis but before that.
You know, for the decades that rates have been going down and down and down and debt has been going up and up and up.
That's a long period of time where assets have arguably been artificially inflated, and so is it possible that you could see a continued correction at some point?
It is possible.
Now, I'm personally not going out and selling my entire stock portfolio.
I don't want to scare people, but I do wanna say that I think we are in a once-in-a-lifetime financial transition, and I think that everybody needs to sort of strap in for that.
And if you need your money in the next couple of years, I would be more cautious than not.
>> JACOBY: In these early months of 2023, on Wall Street, some have been betting that the Fed will relent Stop raising interest rates-- as inflation cools down.
Because the higher it pushes rates and the longer it does, the greater the risks.
>> And so the marketplace is saying the Fed is gonna go too far and it's gonna be forced to reverse course.
That is really unusual.
We've got to a situation now where the markets dismiss what the Fed is telling us.
It's a moment where there are many more potential outcomes.
Some are fine, a soft landing; some are not, a hard landing.
And the truth is you cannot distinguish enough between them.
>> JACOBY: One of the most pessimistic voices is economist Nouriel Roubini, who became famous for his accurate prediction of the financial crisis in 2008.
>> We have had literally a few decades of ever-increasing bubbles that have been fed and supported by central banks.
And not only we have had bubbles, but we have had bubbles that have been fed by excessive leverage, excessive private and public borrowing, and excessive risk-taking.
The party is over.
Inflation is high and is rising.
Central banks have to increase interest rates that is bursting the asset bubble, it's increasing the amount of the debt servicing, of everybody over-borrowed like crazy.
So we lived in a bubble, in a dream, and this dream and the bubble is bursting and it's turning into an economic and a financial nightmare.
reader beeps) >> JACOBY: If Roubini's prediction of a debt crisis is correct, then Jim Millstein would be on the frontlines of it.
He's known on Wall Street as the guy who countries and companies turn to when they run into trouble and need their debts to be restructured.
Wouldn't a debt crisis actually be good for your business?
>> (laughs heartily) You know, I'm getting a little too old for this.
>> JACOBY: Meaning what?
Too old for what?
>> (chuckling): This business!
No, I-I... it... Yeah, no, it'll be... it'll be a boom for the restructuring business.
But I just don't think it's avoidable at this point.
I think we're just, you know, the-the... the bill has come due and it, it's gonna have to be paid.
>> JACOBY: How worried are you about what's happening right now?
>> I've never been more worried in the 42 years that I've been a professional, either as a lawyer, banker, or government servant.
The American corporate sector has never been more levered in American history, never had more debt.
And American households are just about as levered as they were heading into the 2008... into the 2008 financial crisis, whether it's student loans, or mortgage loans, or car loans, or personal loans or credit card loans.
You know, we've borrowed a lot of money as a people.
And so the Fed is absolutely right to try and get it under control by raising interest rates and slowing economic activity.
But the most highly levered players in our economy are, are gonna... are gonna come under real stress.
Whether that's households, or businesses, or governments, as interest costs rise.
>> JACOBY: Are you basically saying that we should be preparing right now?
That there would be, you know, a bursting of this massive credit bubble?
>> It's happening right in front of us.
You know, it may... (inhales) it's happening right now.
>> JACOBY: Are you usually this gloomy or am I just getting you on a bad day?
>> You got me on a bad day.
(laughs) >> JACOBY: One of the concerns is that there's a kind of debt bomb out there; both in the American economy as well as the global economy.
How concerned are you about a credit bubble popping?
>> We're looking at the, the data, we're not seeing evidence of such a popping, we're not seeing evidence of delinquencies taking off.
It... might it happen in the future?
It might, but I'm not seeing evidence of it.
Households on average have very strong balance sheets.
The big banks, which can be very risky for the economy, are well capitalized relative to where they were before 2008, so we're not seeing evidence of it yet.
You know, can't rule it out.
>> JACOBY: So, I guess the question, though, is, how much disruption in the financial markets are you willing to tolerate now that they're adjusting to this new interest rate environment, after more than a decade of, of zero rates?
>> We live in a market economy and market participants need to find a way to adjust to a changing economic landscape.
It's not the Fed's job to bail out Wall Street investors if their stock portfolios go down.
Obviously, we need to keep systemic risk from spilling across the whole economy, and when those events happen, we are prepared to act.
But from, in my view, the bar of us act... the bar from us acting, it should be quite high.
>> JACOBY: I mean the Fed has come to the rescue several times, and we've talked about this in the past, of the financial markets that had grown vulnerable and brittle.
So, are you saying...
I'm just, again I'm asking, what, what degree of disruption would you have to see in order for the Fed to intervene?
>> You know, it's, uh... we're a long, long way away from that.
I guess I would say it that way.
We are a long, long way from any kind of disruption that would warrant us stepping in in that way.
>> JACOBY: Less than 5 months after that interview the Fed would indeed have to step in.
>> In breaking news, the U.S. Federal reserve has bailed out the Silicon Valley Bank which had collapsed over the weekend.
>> JACOBY: It enacted emergency measures to sure up the banking system after two banks collapsed.
>> This is the biggest bank collapse since the 2008 financial crisis.
>> There are important questions of how these banks got into these circumstances in the first place.
>> We're seeing a potential fragility in the system related to monetary policy.
If we hadn't been driving our economy for 14 years with easy money and then trying to really quickly un-do that We wouldn't be having these problems now, absolutely not.
>> What should the Fed do?
>> So, for a long time I have advocated that the Fed should be raising rates.
But even I believe now they need to hit pause, they've gone too far too fast, they need to hit pause and assess the impact on the financial system and the economy.
>> JACOBY It's unclear what the Fed will do next.
>> But just days before the bank failures, Jerome Powell appeared before Congress to answer tough questions about the economy.
>> We actually don't think that we need to see a sharp or enormous increase in unemployment to get inflation under control.
>> I'm looking at your projections.
Do you call laying off 2 million people this year not a sharp increase?
>> JACOBY: The hearing was a showcase of partisan politics and government gridlock.
>> ...raising interest rates won't stop senate democrats and President Biden from over-taxing, over-spending... >> JACOBY: And it was yet another reminder of how in an era of political dysfunction we'd become so dependent on the Fed and on easy money to drive the American economy.
>> The economy needs to get back into balance and that will be painful, and if we keep putting off the day of reckoning we'll just make the day of reckoning a bigger day of reckoning.
>> How do you think we'll look back at this era of easy money?
Unfortunately, I think we may look back on it as something of a golden era, because, you know, cheap and free money without consequences is great.
But in other ways we will think about it as a lesson for the future.
which is that it was a mistake.
♪ ♪ >> I think that we're going to look back on this era as being totally exceptional historically and one where we didn't fulfill it's potential We lost sight of something critical.
We lost sight of how we grow our economy in a sustainable and inclusive fashion.
The world of easy money went way too far, way way too far.
Let's do the other stuff that's needed.
The stuff that really promotes genuine, durable, inclusive growth and not the stuff that creates artificial growth.
We are capable of producing that.
None of that is in the hands of the Fed.
They don't invest in infrastructure.
They can't reform the tax system.
They can't help labor retraining.
♪ ♪ This is a political problem.
>> Go to pbs.org/frontline for more on the silicon valley bank collapse.
>> There's only so much the system can absorb in terms of un-doing all the damage that was caused.
>> And what happened to wealth, wages and inequality during the pandemic.
>> Covid was colliding with an extra fragile financial system.
>> Connect with Frontline on Facebook, Instagram and twitter, and stream anytime on the pbs app, youtube or pbs.org/frontline.
Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH access.wgbh.org.
>> For more on this and other Frontline programs visit our website at pbs.org/frontline.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Frontline's "Age of Easy Money" is available on Amazon Prime Video.