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Paul Singer: The Fed is causing inequality

The Davos World Economic Forum 2015The Davos World Economic Forum 2015
Paul Singer, billionaire and chief executive officer of Elliott Management Corp., pauses during a session on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, SwitzerlandPhotograph by Chris Ratcliffe — Bloomberg via Getty Images

When it comes to bashing the Federal Reserve, Paul Singer is far from finished.

In November, Singer, who runs the hedge fund Elliott Management, said that that the U.S.’s economic recovery had basically been “faked” by the Federal Reserve’s stimulus efforts. He called the good economic numbers coming out “cooked.”

On Wednesday during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Singer continued his attack on the Fed’s policies. He said that the Fed’s quantitative easing bond buying program has been the main driver of income inequality and is exacerbating social instability around the world.

“Inequality is a function of the government’s policies,” said Singer. “There is no question that QE is adding to it.”

Singer admitted that while the U.S. has experienced inequality before, but he said that the players involved in the past were different. He argued that the fact that current inequality is being driven by a rise in investment is clear evidence that the Fed is responsible.

New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini, who was also on the panel with Singer, countered that without the Fed’s stimulus, there would probably be a lot more unemployment in the U.S. That would have probably added to inequality as well. “QE may be helping the rich, but the alternative would be much, much worse for the middle and lower class,” said Roubini.

Singer wasn’t the only one to criticize the Fed and central bankers at the World Economic Forum. In fact, one of the stated themes of this year’s conference is how the world ought to deal with the “addiction” and “excessiveness” that has come with central bank stimulus, which is itself a thinly veiled attack on the Fed. “Central bankers seem to only care about what goes on in their country,” said Axel Weber, chairman of the board at UBS, during a different panel discussion. “There needs to be more coordination.”

Still, criticism of the Fed this year seems oddly timed. U.S. economic growth has been among the strongest in the world these days. And the consensus in Davos seems to be that U.S. economic growth will continue in 2015. Based on that, it’s hard to argue that the Fed has been misguided in its efforts to boost the nation’s economy. What’s more, it appears the Fed has convinced other central banks that quantitative easing works. The European Central Bank is expected to soon announce its own large-scale bond buying program.

Little of that appears to have penetrated the conversation at Davos, though. The primary subject of debate during the panel that included Roubini and Singer was whether markets are good at predicting risk. Roubini argued that markets were indeed good at this task, which is surprising given that the economic had argued for years running up to the financial crisis that the housing and the banking systems were in a bubble.

Roubini said that there was a lot of talk last year at Davos about the potential for a war between China and Japan. The market didn’t seem to suggest that would happen, Roubini said, and the market was correct.

Singer argued that any predictive power markets once had has been eroded by the Fed. “I would put ‘market’ in quotes,” said Singer. “You don’t know what the real price is. The market is determined by the Fed.”