Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell acted decisively in uncharted economic territory in the pandemic, quite possibly sidestepping another Great Depression. This is according to The Wall Street Journal’s “March 2020: How The Fed Averted Economic Disaster” article, based on a new book by WSJ reporter Nick Timiraos.
Indefinite End to Pandemic’s Devastation
Of particular note in chronicling the shocking events of March 18, when the Dow dropped 2,000 points—10,000 points by week’s end—was Powell’s immediate realization that the pandemic would shut down the world’s economy and, quite possibly, all economic output indefinitely.
This prompted Powell to focus 100% on creating liquidity for the U.S. economy by slashing interest rates to zero—and getting Congress to approve nearly $5.9 trillion in COVID stimulus spending in 2020 and 2021.
Compare that to the nearly $1.8 trillion the U.S. government spent to bail the country out of the 2008 Great Recession.
“The pandemic was the most severe disruption of the U.S. economy since the Great Depression,” the Journal says. “Economists, financial market professionals and historians are only beginning to wrestle with the implications of the aggressive response by fiscal and monetary policy makers. The Fed’s highly improvised response to the pandemic also revealed long-term problems and new precedents that could make addressing future crises more challenging.”
‘Hell Is Coming’
On that day, March 18, 2020, when the Dow plummeted, the trigger was largely an interview that billionaire Bill Ackman gave to CNBC, in which he said, “Hell is coming.”
Calling for a 30-day shutdown of the U.S. economy, Ackman urged: “We need to shut it down. Shut it down now.”
Given the high praise the article says has been laid at Powell’s feet for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastation to the economy, the piece stops short of praising Powell ahead of the quantitative tightening in the months ahead.
Timiraos’ WSJ essay was adapted from his upcoming book, “Trillion Dollar Triage: How Jay Powell and the Fed Battled a President and a Pandemic—and Prevented Economic Disaster.” Little, Brown will publish the book on March 1.
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