I can't claim to be the origin of the Fed Credit Bubble idea, because it occurred to me as I read a fantastic piece by one of my favorite analysts, Doug Noland of Prudent Bear.
We've just come out of a huge bubble that consisted of inflated real estate investment and speculative finance credit. The bubble burst and the market began to correct itself, menacing to take a lot of nations' economies with it.
The reaction of our economic leaders was and continues to be to try to maintain a minimum of stability by propping up the various players on the world financial stage as they began to totter, one by one: first the real estate sector with aid to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, then the banking sector by saving Bear Stearns and loans to other institutions, then the insurance sector by bailing out AIG, then the automobile sector with handouts to GM and Chrysler, more money and loans to the banking and real estate sectors, more to AIG, recently some more to auto supply companies, more to AIG, and now the credit card and other large ticket item credit sector--an endless list, it would seem.
The central banks of the world, to a varying degree, are performing their propping-up role as the ultimate insurance company, the lender of last resort; and the U.S. Fed, given the universal role of the U.S. dollar as reserve currency, is the one that will be the buck-stops-here Last Lender of All Last Resorts.
As Noland points out, however:
Our federal government has set a course to issue Trillions of Treasury securities and guarantee multi-Trillions more of private-sector debt. The Federal Reserve has set its own course to balloon its liabilities as it acquires Trillions of securities. After witnessing the disastrous financial and economic distortions wrought from Trillions of Wall Street Credit inflation (securities issuance), [it is possible that] the Treasury and Federal Reserve have set a mutual course that will destroy their creditworthiness - just as Wall Street finance destroyed theirs.
He's saying that the Fed is going to create the Bubble of All Bubbles, right there in its own house.
But just how much air can the U.S. Fed balance sheet withstand, without bursting its own skin? The inflationist central banks are acting on the assumption that they can right the "market failure" (see PS below) through this "temporary" remedy, that the market cannot right itself alone, or at least not without disastrous consequences. But aren't they trying to add air to an already burst bubble?
Instead of curing the problem, they are acting contrary to the market's instinctive corrective hiatus and will end up distorting events even further. How can arbitrarily selective bailouts and the forced financing of government projects--projects that otherwise most likely would not have been financed--do anything except further distort the admittedly slow and cumbersome but essential market reevaluation process?
[T]he seductive part of [the optimistic] view is that unprecedented policy measures may actually be able to somewhat rekindle an artificial boom – perhaps enough even to appear to stabilize the system. But seeming 'stabilization' will be in response to massive Washington stimulus and market intervention – and will be dependent upon ongoing massive government stimulus and intervention. It’s called a debt trap. The Great Hyman Minsky would view it as the ultimate 'Ponzi Finance.'
Precisely. The ultimate Bubble, created by those who are supposed to help us avoid them altogether.
So how will the world react when this latest bubble bursts? At some point, investors looking to preserve the value of their wealth will realize that there is no investment denominated in an existing national currency that does the trick, and they'll turn to gold, always the last fat lady to sing before the curtain falls and reality sets back in. (By now, you've figured out that I'm somewhat of a gold bug.)
PS: We have no market failure here. On the contrary, the market is functioning perfectly. It is waiting to discover the real price of toxic assets, if only the government and its allies would let it. Rather, it is the market players who have failed us, and more specifically those who would pretend to manage our monetary units. For more on the true source of the real estate and credit bubbles, find yourselves a copy of the March 16, 2009 Research Reports out of the American Institute for Economic Research (annual subscription), and read the piece by Walter M. Cadette entitled "Greenspan the Goat."