Finance Column » Your Money This Week » Econ policy gets midterm exam

Econ policy gets midterm exam

By Gregg Fields ·
Monday, November 1, 2010
Posted 10 am ET

It's seems like the season is always starting earlier. Why can't they wait until after Halloween to start advertising? The whole ritual seems more about money than the true meaning of the day itself.

Yet, there's no denying the giddy anticipation and belief in miracles that this special observance can bring.

That's right: Election Day is this week. And for many, the greatest gift of all will be no more robocalls from political candidates.

Beyond the results at the ballot box, this week's election is being viewed as a watershed economic event sure to affect our pocketbooks until -- well, at least until the next election. It is the autumn of our discontent, and turnout is expected to be strong for a midterm election.

But what will the voters' message be? Particularly in this campaign season, reading tea leaves can be seen as a partisan act. Forecasts are perhaps best left for the Weather Channel since economic policy, like atmospheric conditions, is subject to change.

A matching bookend to the economic significance of the election will be an announcement expected the next day. This news event has been nicknamed QE2, and it will likely set sail following the Federal Reserve meeting on Wednesday.

QE2 doesn't refer to the luxury ocean liner, nor is it shorthand for the reigning British monarch. Rather, it is an expected effort by the Federal Reserve to push cash into the banks. The theory is that that they will then lend, businesses will spend and the jobless recovery will end.

It's called quantitative easing, and QE2 will be the second time that the Fed has used it to try to refloat the economy.

Pundits have variously deemed QE2 as too little, too late, too much or premature. Goldilocks was easier to please. The contrasts are striking, particularly since the Fed hasn't actually confirmed it's going to do anything, much less give specifics.

Ironically, recent reports suggest a lack of money isn't what's ailing America. The Fed says U.S. corporations are sitting on a massive $1.8 trillion or so in liquid assets. Banks themselves have been scoring huge profits. Even once-beleaguered Ford is in overdrive, reporting its sixth straight profitable quarter and saying it will have no net debt by year's end.

Yet, last week's data show the recovery progressing at a pace only a tectonic plate would envy. For instance, it was reported that new unemployment claims fell by 21,000 to 434,000. Good news? Some analysts seemed to think so. It was below the 450,000 threshold and the second straight weekly decline.

On the other hand, it's as if the city of Miami -- population 433,136, says the Census -- got laid off. Clearly, the job market is still no day at the beach.

Holidays and election days aside, until that changes, consumers -- and voters -- have no cause for Thanksgiving.

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1 Comment
gerald schwartz
November 08, 2010 at 4:20 pm

At last we have a column on economics which lay persons can understand without a graduate degree in finance. Gregg Fields is a gem!