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2012-05-03 — huffingtonpost.com

``Everyone agrees that low interest rates are a good way to stimulate a stalled economy. The Fed takes this logic a step further. It believes that if low interest rates are good, then zero-interest rates must be even better. As a brief emergency measure, such drastic behavior is reasonable and can even be necessary. In 2008, Chairman Bernanke had near unanimous support for his decision to drop rates to near zero. At the peak of the crisis, it made sense. But that was four long years and many jelly donuts ago. In the 2012 economy, a zero rate policy not only adds no benefit, it's actually harmful.

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For years, people have talked about the 'Greenspan put' or the 'Bernanke put' on the stock market. Some question whether such a put is deliberate, others question its effectiveness, and some even question whether or not it exists at all. The Fed has always explicitly denied using monetary policy to create a floor on the markets, and its inability to do so should have been settled when the NASDAQ fell 78%. As for whether or not the Fed puts are a myth, I think it depends on where you look.

It isn't where you think: The real Fed put is under the bond market.

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Interest rates are only one consideration when looking to invest. If it makes sense to build a factory in a 2% ten-year note environment, it probably still makes sense to build it with long rates at 4%. Long duration investments of that nature have so many other risks that, once rates are low enough, further reductions in the marginal cost of money no longer make much difference.

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Another blob of jelly that we are still working to digest is the Fed's promise to keep rates at zero for a long time. Chairman Bernanke hopes this will encourage borrowing and investment, but it may have the opposite effect because it undermines any sense of urgency. By setting the time value of money to zero, the Fed devalues time.

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Inflation has ceased to be an unfortunate by-product of growth. Rather, it is a direct hindrance to growth. We see the evidence in the disappointing growth during the first half of 2011. When the Fed finally signaled that there would be no QE3, commodity inflation stopped, oil prices retreated, and the economy began to improve. Oil prices again rose with the serving of the "Operation Twist" Jelly Donut, putting 2012 growth estimates at risk.

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I know this isn't conventional thinking, and it certainly isn't the way the Fed looks at it, but I believe that raising short rates -- not to a high level, but to a still low level of 2 or 3% -- would be much more conducive to both growth and stability.

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For the super wealthy, zero rates supported by a Bernanke put on the bond market encourage outsized income through leveraged speculation. For everyone else, zero rates reduce the standard of living because greater food and energy costs soak up income

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