Ken Langone thinks the Fed messed up and millions of Americans will have to pay the price. The billionaire investor and Home Depot cofounder describes inflation (which came in at 6.4% higher than a year ago in January, the latest reading) as being “out of control” and sees little way for the central bank to rein it in without raising interest rates more and hurting the economy—something that needs to be done, he believes.
“Frankly, I don’t know how you avert a serious financial crisis where we are right now,” Langone told Fox Business on Wednesday. “If and when the big crash comes, it’s not going to be pretty.”
He added, “The poor people, the little people, the people living from paycheck to paycheck, they’re the ones that get hurt the most.”
The way Langone sees it, the central bank made a key mistake in 2021 by not raising interest rates to quickly beat inflation, which was already more than double its 2% target. He likened Fed officials to incompetent criminals in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, a 1971 movie starring Jerry Orbach and Robert De Niro.
“My problem with the Fed, overall, is there’s too many academics in the mix,” said Langone. “I think if you had more businesspeople involved or people with business backgrounds, I think you might see a different dialogue and different decisions.”
In 2021, the Fed believed that inflation was a temporary effect of the economy reopening after the height of the pandemic, despite warnings from economist Jeremy Siegel and others that it should tighten monetary policy.
“The last two years [are] one of the biggest policy mistakes in the 110-year history of the Fed, by staying so easy when everything was booming,” Siegel told CNBC last September.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted, “Siegel is obviously correct.”
This week, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told Congress the central bank might need to hike interest rates higher than expected to beat inflation—and took some heat from lawmakers.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, asked him, “If you could speak directly to the 2 million hardworking people who have decent jobs today, who you’re planning to get fired over the next year, what would you say to them? How would you explain your view that they need to lose their jobs?”
Powell responded that inflation is “extremely high, and it’s hurting the working people of this country badly—all of them.” He asked Warren, “Will working people be better off if we just walk away from our jobs, and inflation remains 5%, 6%?”
Langone, a Republican megadonor, said Wednesday, “Senator Warren, she talks out of both sides of her mouth. What she doesn’t realize is the people who pay the most for inflation are the lower-income people. Inflation is the most regressive of all taxes ever.”
While the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in more than 50 years—prompting retailers like Kroger, Walmart, and Home Depot to increase wages and benefits—signs of households hurting are emerging. Cox Automotive data for January showed more Americans are struggling to make their car payments, with high interest rates a big reason why.
“Borrowers are getting closer to the financial edge,” Kathleen Engel, a law professor at Suffolk University, told Bloomberg.
Langone said Wednesday, “The American people need to understand there’s no pain, no gain. Maybe we’re going to put 2 million people out of work, but I don’t know any way around dealing with the problem of inflation and the tragedy of what comes with inflation.”
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