The American Prospect: The Crisis in Financial Markets Began Before COVID-19

March 19, 2020 Op-ed

The American Prospect

Last week, the Federal Reserve staged a large-scale intervention in short-term money markets, announcing that it would make $1.5 trillion in loans available in the coming days. It followed with a big rate cut. And this week, the Federal Reserve is going to start lending to any big corporation that needs it, an emergency measure it last took during the 2008 financial crisis. It will be lending essentially unlimited sums to hedge funds, banks, and brokerages.

These subsidies to the financial sector might make sense today, because the COVID-19 pandemic was unexpected and every sector is having problems. The central bank must act and act boldly at such a moment.

But it’s important to divide up responses to the pandemic into shocks to the system that are a necessary result of an unexpected catastrophe, and preexisting problems that we never addressed that are made worse by the outbreak. Seen in that light, what the Fed is doing looks much riskier than it first appears. While the scale of the Fed’s announcement dwarfs its preceding interventions, this was the third of its kind in just the last six months.