Big Question at Fund-Bank Meetings: What’s With QE3?

While the shutdown-debt limit talks continue in Washington, thousands of financial people from the private and the public sectors throughout the world (including me) crowded into town this weekend for the annual IMF-World Bank meetings. Aside from the shutdown, the biggest topic has been the Fed’s surprising switch from taper to no taper of QE3, and what’s next, in contrast to last year when Europe was the big topic.

Questions and comments to me about QE from people in the audiences at speaking events, meals, receptions, etc. have ranged from “Its effectiveness has diminished, what can be done?” to “It has paralyzed markets, what can be done?” to “It has only made the rich richer, what can be done?” My response has been “If not now, when? Start slowing purchases in a gradual rule-like manner.”

Of course it may be that people who think QE has worked are not asking me questions, but the skepticism is quite common. Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty candidly said this about QE3: “I don’t think they should have done it in the first place.  Now that they’ve done it they should get out of it as quickly as they can,” though at yet another event, the Fed’s Jay Powell said that the Fed was no longer in any rush to do so.

On the shutdown, the G20 criticized the US, saying in the communique that the US “needs to take urgent action to address short-term fiscal uncertainties,” though it is hard to believe that anyone involved in the shutdown-debt limit discussion paid any attention. And, of course, the US executive branch is part of the G20 and probably did not object to the statement.

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