本周早些时候，《华尔街日报》（Wall Street Journal）旗帜鲜明地抛出了相反的观点。这家报纸刊登的一篇文章认为，从量化宽松中得到最多好处的是年轻人和穷人。这篇文章的逻辑很简单，或者说过于简单，那就是年轻人和穷人负债最多。因此，他们是利率下降的最大受益者。富人拥有大量银行存款，得到的好处没有那么大。
Robin Hood? Not quite
Did the Fed do the poor a solid?
A common knock on quantitative easing, the Federal Reserve stimulus program, suggests just the opposite: The interest rate lowering program mostly benefited the rich. That was one complaint made by Larry Summers, the former Treasury Secretary who the White House seemed close to appointing as head of the Fed before he dropped out of the race. He said QE likely made inequality worse.
Earlier this week, though, the Wall Street Journal staked out the contrary ground. The article said that the individuals who benefited the most from QE were the young and the poor. The article's simple logic -- too simple -- was that the young and the poor are the most in debt. So lower interest rates benefits them the most. Rich people with lots of money stashed in the bank, not so much.
Were these effects part of a grand design to stimulate the economy through more corporate investment, household spending and a healthier financial sector, or a clumsy and unintended redistribution of wealth caused by extraordinary measures?
There are a number of problems with the argument that leads the Journal to this dubious question, but the biggest one is this: Stocks. The article says almost nothing about the stock market, only making a passing reference to the fact that other articles about the Fed's policies have talked about "asset prices." And not just stocks, but also bonds and houses, and investments in general. In other words, an article that was trying to draw a conclusion about how QE affected Americans' wealth completely ignored the very thing that contains the bulk of Americans' wealth.
And you know who holds more stocks than anyone else? The rich. A lot more than the poor. (That's how these things work.) So to believe that QE benefited the poor more than the rich, you have to conclude that stocks over the past few years have gone down, which they have not (they've gone up, by a lot) or that QE has had no impact on the market.
The latter notion was argued in a recent McKinsey report, which appears to be the impetus for the WSJ article. Simple -- again, too simple -- logic would suggest the McKinsey report is wrong: We have had a lot of QE. Stocks have gone up a lot. QE made stocks go up.
But the McKinsey report, which was published in November, dives a little deeper. If QE has been driving stocks, then any announcements about QE would cause stocks to jump or fall. They say the stock market reactions to news about QE have been mild, and temporary. For example, the report says the market barely dropped when the Fed made it official in mid-June that they were considering pulling back on bond purchases. The market quickly began to rise again. Same thing but in reverse in mid-September, when the Fed put off the taper.
But the report is looking at the wrong dates. Bernanke first hinted about the taper on May 22. From the beginning of the year until then, the stock market was up 17%. From that time until September 18, the day before Fed put off the taper, the market rose just 3%. Since then, the market is up another 8%, of which just 3% of that return has occurred since December 18, when the Fed actually began to cut its bond purchases.