Don’t Call it Capitalism: The Fed’s $8 Trillion Hoard of Financial Assets
It’s a sure bet that as the economy worsens, unemployment surges, foreclosures rise, defaults climb, and economic misery ensues, we’ll be told it’s all capitalism’s fault. The question one must ask, however, is, “What capitalism?”
The claim that “too much” capitalism drives every economic calamity is standard among anticapitalists on both the left and the right. They have many bullet points claiming government programs and government spending are everywhere retreating while free-market capitalism is experiencing a resurgence. This can be easily shown to be empirically false. Evidence can be found in everything from the continual flood of government regulations to rising per capita taxation and spending to the growing army of government employees. That’s all in the United States, mind you, the supposed headquarters of “free-market capitalism.” We might also point to how the US welfare state, including the immense amounts of government spending on healthcare and pensions, is on a par with European welfare states in terms of size. The supposed lack of social benefits programs in the US has long been a myth. The trend in spending, taxation, and regulation is unambiguously upward.
In recent years, though, one additional indictor of just how little capitalism is actually going on has surfaced: central banks around the world are buying up huge amounts of financial assets in order to subsidize certain industries, inflate prices, and generally manipulate the economy. This is certainly true of the American central bank, the Federal Reserve.
How the Federal Reserve Came to Dominate Financial Asset Markets
While the Fed has long bought government debt in its so-called open-market operations to manipulate the interest rate, wholesale buying of financial assets began in 2008. This included both US government Treasurys and—in a new development—private-sector mortgage-backed securities (MBSs). This was done to prop up banks and other firms that had bet on the lie that “home prices always go up.” The value of mortgage-backed securities was falling fast, so beginning in 2008, the Fed bought up MBSs to the tune of $1.7 trillion. That was all before covid.
Source: Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) (“Balance Sheet: Total Assets: Securities: U.S. Treasury Securities” [QBPBSTASSCUSTRSC], Federal Deposit Insurance Commission [FDIC], last modified December 2, 2022; and “Assets: Securities Held Outright: Mortgage-Backed Securities: Wednesday Level” [WSHOMCB], Board of Governor
Article from Mises Wire