Effectively, they have been. The Federal Reserve has been keeping interest rates at levels that should be causing significant inflation. The goal is to prevent a deflationary spiral by pumping up the money supply: when you can borrow lower than inflation, people should borrow and pay it back with tomorrow's less-valuable dollars.
They've been doing that for nearly a decade now, and it has successfully prevented the deflation, but it's a little baffling that it hasn't touched off more inflation than it has. The consumer confidence is hovering around 100, which should be a decent level for a stable economy. Unemployment is still higher than we'd like but it's well off the bust years.
My hypothesis is that people have gotten too used to boom economies. If people aren't getting triple-digit returns they don't want to invest. What we've got is a very stable economy, exactly the kind that people should be able to take risks in, but without a real estate boom or dotcom boom or other scheme to get people to dump their whole life savings and then borrow on margin, they just don't bother.
Stability means that those who have been left behind continue to be left behind. That's the worst thing that can be said about the economy. There just isn't an engine of growth.
There are a lot of other factors, I'm sure. Europe went mostly for less aggressive measures, and their economies haven't come out as well, meaning fewer markets there. China's growth has ceased to be ridiculous. Oil prices should have sparked some kind of boom, and I've got a nasty cynical feeling that Wall Street is ideologically predisposed not to invest in the emerging energies as much as they should.
But a lot of it is the catch-22 you mentioned. Consumers and investors each seem to be waiting for the other to go first. We've been technically out of recession for more than five years, and it's gotten past the point where the recovery could be called mere accounting. It's real. But America just hasn't gotten its feet back under it in the way that it usually does.