NEW YORK ( Real Money) -- Let's hope they know something! Once again I am going back to the rant. I did my best to warn the Federal Reserve in 2007 that it needed to cut rates and cut rates fast or we would have a monstrous downturn in the economy and the stock market.
I said they knew nothing back then, because they didn't know the fire they were playing with after 17 straight interest rate hikes, which ultimately led directly to the Great Recession. Years after my attempts to get the Fed's attention, we got the transcript of the meeting that occurred around that time. When the rant was mentioned, the transcript said "laughter."
Yeah, real funny. We all know what happened.
We are again at a moment when the economy looks strong, when employment growth is coming back in a terrific way even if wage growth isn't. And the topic once again is the need to raise rates quickly before the economy overheats. Outgoing Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher is calling right now for a "prompt" rate increase because it will be too late if we wait until there is full employment.
I like Richard Fisher. He's a good man. But Fisher has consistently underestimated the downturn and he has been, alas, wrong numerous times about the need to be vigilant when accommodation was called for.
Right now, he couldn't be more wrong. I would go so far as to say his call to action is dangerous and will cause a tremendous downdraft, if not a bear market, in all worldwide equities. And it will spur a dramatic decline in economic activity globally if the Fed listens to him. Fortunately, he is not a voting member, and he won't participate in next week's discussions.
I am not disagreeing with him that traditionally, the Fed should be raising rates. Our .25 fed funds rate is too low in a vacuum. But we are in anything but a vacuum. The Europeans are doing everything they can to debase the euro in order to get their economies moving, at our expense.
We have important countries like Mexico and Brazil with currencies that are being crushed just on the fear that we are about to raise rates. The turmoil out there is so palpable, the ongoing destruction so obvious, that we might as well be back in August of 2007 when they knew nothing about what was really happening.
If we raise rates right now, I can see the currencies of whole countries collapsing, particularly in Latin America. That contagion will spread globally, undoing whatever fragile economic growth there might be away from the United States.
Believe me, it will eventually take us down, too. Plus, where's the emergency? It is not like there is any inflation in this country. A strong dollar plus free trade agreements that allow countries to dump products here while taking away our jobs but not buying our goods will keep inflation tame for a very long time. Lower oil doesn't hurt, either.
Fortunately there is someone on the Fed who understands this better than anyone: Stanley Fischer, the Fed vice chairman who also happened to be the First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund during not one but two currency collapses. One of them included the fabled Asian contagion that brought low entire countries in Southeast Asia.
Fischer knows how fragile things are right now and how a U.S. rate hike could crush a country like Brazil, which has hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S.-denominated debt. He also understands that our multinational companies would see dramatic declines in international sales because our currency would simply be too strong to be competitive if we raise rates right now.
My hope is that Stanley Fischer's view trumps Richard Fisher. If Stanley is as wise as I know him to be, he will say that he can totally understand that a rate increase would normally be warranted. But he will say we can't afford to do it without provoking a needless crisis that could set the whole world on a collision course with a recession.
There will come a time when the world is less unsettled, currencies will have adjusted, and a contagion will be less likely. Right now, if the Fed wants to show it knows something this time and not nothing like the last time, it demurs. It lets Stanley Fischer's hand stay steady on the tiller and it wishes Dick Fisher well in his coming retirement.
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Editor's Note: This article was originally published at 1:46 p.m. EST on Real Money on March 10.