Michael Gerson used his column today to warn of the bad effects of quantitative easing, telling readers that it is concealing structural problems. To make his case, he completely misrepresented statements from Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke.
After referring to comments from Mario Draghi, the President of the European Central Bank, urging governments take steps to increase potential growth, Gerson tells readers:
"Outgoing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has been gently suggesting there are limits to what the Fed can accomplish and warning against counterproductive fiscal policies and confidence-shaking political confrontations. Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Richmond Federal Reserve, argues that economic growth is limited 'in large part, by structural factors that monetary policy is not capable of offsetting.'"
In this context readers would naturally believe that Bernanke was also warning about structural obstacles to growth, which is the theme pushed in the rest of Gerson's column. This is not true.
Bernanke was very clearly warning about the negative effects of the sequester and ending of the payroll tax cut, both of which reduced demand. Gerson is being dishonest when he is trying to enlist Bernanke as an ally in his assertion that the obstacles to economic growth at the moment are primarily structural. He quite clearly believes the opposite, which is what he told Congress in arguing for expansionary fiscal policy and also the reason why he would pursue his quantitative easing policy.
It is also ironic that Gerson cites Germany as a success story that has effectively dealt with its structural problems. Germany's growth since 2007 has been no better than growth in the United States. (Part of this is explained by its lower population growth, which means that it has lower potential growth.)
The main reason why Germany has an unemployment rate of just 5.4 percent, compared to 7.5 percent at the start of the downturn, is measures such as work sharing which encourage employers to keep workers on the job but with fewer hours. The average work year in Germany is almost 20 percent shorter than in the United States. This is a huge factor in explaining its high employment levels. Unfortunately Gerson neglected to mention this fact.