As the Trump economic revival doubled economic-growth rates over the last two years, interest rates, which had fallen in the final two years of the Obama era, have risen by more than 40%. Today no news cycle is complete without speculation about how much the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates or how the president has blasted the Fed for setting rates too high. The latest saga played out last month, with the Fed raising rates for the fourth time in 2018 even though market rates were down slightly since the last Fed hike, in September. Extraordinarily, this debate is occurring at the very moment the Fed—shackled by its bloated asset holdings and the resulting excess reserves of the banking system—has less ability to control interest rates than it has had in its entire 105-year history.+
When the subprime crisis caused financial markets to freeze up in 2008, the Fed responded by pumping liquidity into the banking system. It also did something that was not widely discussed at the time and even a decade later is almost never taken into account: It started to pay interest on reserves, in essence paying banks not to lend. This effectively converted the reserves of the banking system into interest-bearing securities.
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