Although Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said nothing new in her carefully manicured semi-annual testimony to Congress last week, her performance there, taken within the context of a lengthy profile in the New Yorker (that came to press at around the same time), should confirm that she is very different from any of her predecessors in the job. Put simply, she is likely the most dovish and politically leftist Fed Chair in the Central Bank's history.
While her tenure thus far may feel like a seamless extension of the Greenspan/Bernanke era, investors should understand how much further Yellen is likely to push the stimulus envelope into unexplored territory. She does not seem to see the Fed's mission as primarily to maintain the value of the dollar, promote stable financial markets, or to fight inflation. Rather she sees it as a tool to promote progressive social policy and to essentially pick up where formal Federal social programs leave off.
Despite her good intentions, the Fed's blunt instrument policy tools of low interest rates and money supply expansion can do nothing to raise real incomes, lift people out of poverty, or create jobs. Instead these moves deter savings and capital investment, prevent the creation of high paying jobs, and increase the cost of living, especially for the poor (They are also giving rise to greater international financial tensions, which I explore more deeply in my just released quarterly newsletter). On the "plus" side, these policies have created huge speculative profits on Wall Street. Unfortunately, Yellen does not seem to understand any of this. But she likely has a greater understanding of how the Fed's monetization of government debt (through Quantitative Easing) has prevented the government from having to raise taxes sharply or cut the programs she believes are so vital to economic health.
But as these policies have also been responsible for pushing up prices for basic necessities such as food, energy, and shelter, these "victories" come at a heavy cost. Recent data shows that consumers are paying more for the things they need and spending less on the things they want. But Yellen simply brushes off this evidence as temporary noise.