Friday, January 31, 2014

The “Taper” Trick

CNN did a linguistic analysis of Ben Bernanke’s speeches and feigned surprise that he had never used the word “taper”:

To find Bernanke not using the word “taper” makes perfect sense if you look at what the word means. In its specialized Wall Street usage of the last two years, “taper” means that the Fed will crash the securities markets by reducing its securities-purchasing program. This is a misleading construction, though, and not just in the false conclusion of crashing the markets. It is misleading because of the way it presents the verb “taper” as a distinct action, when in fact the Fed is continuing to provide crisis-mode support to the money supply by purchasing securities every month, but in a smaller quantity than last month.

In other words, although “taper” is presented on Wall Street as an action, it is really the opposite — a reduction of action. The very existence of the word “taper” embodies a false assumption, the assumption that Wall Street deserves to have the Fed buy billions of dollars of its securities every month. In reality, those sales are not Wall Street’s right or privilege, but merely the accidental result of the central bank’s management of the money supply. It is not Bernanke’s way to choose words to confuse people, so you would not expect to hear him talking “taper” very much.

We could play the same linguistic trick by inventing a word for all those people who aren’t eating so much beef since beef has become a luxury item. Maybe we could say the consumers who have reduced the scale and frequency of their beef consumption are being “disobeefient.” Having invented that term, we could go on to say that the decline in beef was being caused the consumer trend of “disobeefience.” In a certain linguistic sense, that would be true, but in reality, it would just be a trick of words to take attention away from the way high prices are driving consumers away from the product.

Likewise with “taper.” Nowhere in the Fed’s charter does it say that it has a duty to protect speculators who have driven the price of securities and related assets up to unsustainable levels. By using the word “taper” and focusing attention on the Fed, people on Wall Street are trying to protect those exact market speculators from scrutiny. If you look at where Wall Street’s money comes from, this ploy should perhaps not be a surprise.