In his speech above, future Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke acknowledged that, by raising interest rates, the Fed triggered the stock market crash of 1929, which heralded in the Great Depression.
Yet, in her speech above, Fed Chair Janet Yellen announced that “it makes sense” for the Fed to raise interest rates “a few times a year.” This is a concern, as economic conditions are similar to those in 1929, and a rise in interest rates may have the same effect as it did then.
So let’s back up a bit and have a look at what happened in 1929. In the run-up to the 1929 crash, the Federal Reserve raised rates to 6%, ostensibly to “limit speculation in securities markets.” As history shows, this sent economic activity south rather quickly. Countless investors, large and small, who had bought stocks on margin, would be unable to pay increased interest rates and would be forced to default. (It’s important to understand that the actual default was not necessary to crash markets. The knowledge that investors would be in trouble was sufficient to send the markets into a tailspin.)
Mister Bernanke was quite clear in 2002 when he stated that the Fed would not make the same mistake again that it made in 1929, yet, then, as now, there’s been a surprise victory by a Republican candidate for president. Then, as now, a wealthy man who had never held elective office was unexpectedly in the catbird seat and had the potential to endanger the control of the political class, at a time when that political class had been complicit in damaging the system by creating massive debt.