Speak Loudly and Carry No Stick

Theodore Roosevelt’s famous mantra ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ suggested that the United States should seek to avoid creating controversies and expectations through loose or rash pronouncements, but be prepared to act decisively, with the most powerful weaponry, when the time came. More than a century later, the Federal Reserve has stood Teddy’s maxim on its head. As far as Janet Yellen and her colleagues at the Fed are concerned, the Fed should speak as loudly, frequently, and as circularly as possible to conceal that they are holding no stick whatsoever. Roosevelt’s “stick” was America’s military might, which in his day largely boiled down to the U. S. Navy, which he had enlarged and modernized. To demonstrate to a potential adversary that he was prepared to use these weapons, Roosevelt sent the fleet around the world in a massive show of force. However, he took care to couch the expedition in soothing rhetoric. He even ordered the battleships to be painted white to create the impression that they were angels of mercy rather than instruments of power. The combination proved effective. America’s global influence increased dramatically during his presidency even though few shots were fired. The ‘sticks’ that Janet Yellen is supposedly ready to employ are interest rate increases that are needed to help normalize the economy, fight inflation, and to stockpile ammunition to combat the next recession. Yet, in the last decade interest rates have essentially been fixed at zero. In fact, since the end of 2008 the Fed has raised rates a grand total of once…last December, by just one quarter of a percent. But what they have lacked in action they have more than made up for with torrents of talk. As a result of this ‘Loud Talk Policy,’ American economic prestige in the 21st Century has fallen faster than it rose in the Roosevelt presidency.

This post was published at Euro Pac on Thursday, July 28, 2016.