The economy is getting back on track, so maybe it’s time for policy makers to loosen their grip on interest rates.
By Sheila Bair, contributor
(Bair is a former chair of the FDIC)
FORTUNE — In a recent series of college lectures, Ben Bernanke sounded a positive note, extolling the Fed’s low-interest-rate policy and predicting sustainable economic growth. I want to believe him, but his words echo the confidence exuded by the Fed in late 2006 when it missed the housing bubble. Is it missing the bond bubble now?
The Fed has maintained interest rates at or near zero for four years running, even though the financial system has been relatively stable since 2009. The Fed’s actions have kept Treasury bond prices high (while keeping the government’s interest costs low), but the fundamentals do not support the high valuations, given the fiscal mess we are in. Sooner or later, the bond bubble will burst. History has shown that a structurally weak economy combined with a fiscally irresponsible government propped up by accommodative central-bank lending always ends badly. Absent a change in policies, a toxic brew of volatile interest rates and uncontrollable inflation could define our future.