If you hate the Federal Reserve, you have a new hero.
A few weeks ago, Jeremy Grantham (Trades, Portfolio), the co-founder of money management firm GMO, called newly appointed Federal Reserve chairman Janet Yellen "ignorant" in the New York Times. He also said the reason for the slow recovery was not the severe financial crisis, continued high unemployment, or the many standoffs in Washington. Instead, he blamed the Fed for ruining the recovery it was supposed to stimulate. To someone who believes in the laws of economics, it's hard to overstate how odd that claim is. It's positively bonkers.
Low interest rates stimulate the economy. The Fed has done everything in its power to keep interest rates down, lower and longer than anyone can remember. That should have helped the economy. And yet the recovery has been just meh. So, either Grantham is bonkers, or he is onto something. Fortune recently caught up with him to find out.
Fortune: You believe the Fed's policies, particularly quantitative easing, have slowed the recovery. What's your proof?
Grantham: It's quite likely that the recovery has been slowed down because of the Fed's actions. Of course, we're dealing with anecdotal evidence here because there is no control. But go back to the 1980s and the U.S. had an aggregate debt level of about 1.3 times GDP. Then we had a massive spike over the next two decades to about 3.3 times debt. And GDP over that time period has been slowed. There isn't any room in that data for the belief that more debt creates growth.
In the economic crisis after World War I, there was no attempt at intervention or bailouts, and the economy came roaring back. In the S&L crisis, we liquidated the bad banks and their bad real estate bets. Property prices fell, capitalist juices started to flow, and the economy came roaring back. This time around, we did not liquidate the guys who made the bad bets.
Can you really blame the Fed for the bailouts? That was an act of Congress.
I don't like to get into the details. The Bernanke put -- the market belief that if anything goes bad the Fed will come to the rescue -- has had a profound impact on people and how they act.