The trouble in Europe seems to be getting worse, with debt fears spreading somewhat beyond even Spain to Belgium and Italy.
This is something people need to keep in mind when they think about QE2 and the fact that the real problem with current monetary policy is that it’s not loose enough. One thing you’re seeing as all this plays out in Europe is that the Euro is declining in value relative to the dollar. The dollar could go up for two kinds of reasons. One would be that foreigners are increasing their demand for US-made goods and services. They could be saying “I don’t want these Italian financial assets, I’m going to go buy a Boeing jet.” But obviously that’s not what’s happening here. Instead people are concerned about the increasingly rickety-looking European monetary system and want to get their hands on dollars as such.
The right response to this is for the Fed to be doing monetary stimulus — printing more money. This can take a number of forms. Buying longer-dated Treasuries seems to be what the FOMC is most comfortable with, but in a lot of ways I think it would be better to just create the money and send it to people. There are some questions about exactly how you would organize such a “helicopter drop” but I’m confident it could be worked out. And working those problems out would, among other things, have the advantage of improving the politics of monetary stimulus. Cut the banks out of the transmission mechanism and illustrate the fact that the point is to increase the amount of money that people have.