by panda (10044)
The real problem is that Greenspan and Bernanke seem to have failed both basic economics and remedial math. Also, they must have been absent on the day that Keynesian monetary policy was explained.
As unpopular as it may be with some people, what you are seeing today are the fruits of Reagan-era economic policy, "Reaganomics" or as G.H.W. Bush called it "Voodoo Economics."
Basically, the Fed. has kept their lending rates artificially low for the past 20+ years. They have kept this rate well below the rate of inflation. Banks are paying and charging interest using this rate as the basis, since this rate essentially determines the "cost" of money.
Keeping this rate below the inflation rate encourages spending and borrowing rather than savings. After all, why save at 1% when inflation is 8% and you can borrow at 6%? By borrowing now, you can increase your buying power immediately, and get more for the same amount of money, instead of losing money in a savings account.
That's all fine, assuming your wages increase along with the inflation rate, but for most people, they haven't. When wages are not increasing to match the rate of inflation, then people are effectively getting a cut in pay and can afford to buy less stuff. (Obvious, right, but many people need this simple fact explained to them.)
So, as mentioned above, the low Fed. rates encourage borrowing, and even with the modest income increases most people can afford to keep on borrowing, but only for so long. Unless wages make a dramatic increase, borrowing consumers reach the point where they have borrowed all that they can afford to borrow. They reach the point where they are making minimum payments on their loans, paying bills, and for food, energy and other essentials, and there is no money left over. Upon reaching this point, even the most obtuse consumers will cut back on spending and borrowing. Those who don't will default and go bankrupt, whether they file papers to seek bankruptcy protection or not, they will for all intents and purposes be bankrupt.
This is, essentially, what has happened to the U.S. economy. The orgy of spending and borrowing has ended because the sun has come up and all the drunkards are staggering home after the party with massive hangovers.
This is also why injecting $700 billion to buy "bad" debt won't solve a thing. Even if the gov't buys the debt, the consumers will still owe that debt, and the conscientious ones will still try to pay it. As long as the consumers have to pay that debt, spending in the short term will be curtailed.
In the short term, there is no easy fix. In fact, many would think the cure to be worse than the disease. The long term cure is to return to the days of higher interest rates, less spending and more saving. Quite simply, Greenspan's little experiment on the American people has failed to produce the endless growth that he promised.