Good morning, Quartz readers!
The Fed threaded the needle.
After months of fretting, the US Federal Reserve said it would begin easing up on the bond-buying that’s helped support the US economy since the financial crisis.
Curiously, markets greeted the so-called taper warmly. (It will begin in January.) Bond prices—long supported by Fed bond-buying—barely budged. The S&P 500 jumped, a counterintuitive reaction as the Fed’s activism is widely credited with driving the market’s gains in recent years.
Why? Well for one thing, a spate of very good economic data—industrial production, housing starts, retail sales, GDP—suggests the US economy may finally have enough momentum to improve with less Fed help.
Also, the Fed tempered the taper—which on balance should decrease support for the economy—by hinting very strongly that it would increase another form of support, namely keeping the Fed funds rate parked near zero for even longer than investors had expected.
But that move didn’t merely counterbalance the taper. It also marked a shift in approach. Giving clear hints of where interest rates will likely go—called “forward guidance”—is a policy tool that some economists prefer over bond-buying, because it avoids certain risks such as stoking inflation (though it carries its own risks, notably that it works only as long as markets believe the bank will keep its promises). In particular, it’s a favorite of Janet Yellen, who has been tapped to take over from current chairman Ben Bernanke when his term expires in January.
Bernanke’s final move, then, was to both take the first step in ending the vast amount of help the Fed has given the economy in recent years, and to pave the way for his successor. Classy.—Matt Phillips
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
At last, a good bitcoin explainer. Ever feel like you’ve read a ton of pieces about bitcoin but none explaining how it actually works? So did we. Ritchie King, Sam Williams and David Yanofsky break it down and make it simple. Best of all, your computer will mine for bitcoin while you’re reading it.
How the internet of things is going to come about. Christopher Mims completes his series on connected devices. Part I last week said 2014 would finally be the year the internet of things takes off; part II explains how it will replace the web; and part III lays out the one invention that’s needed for that to happen.
A feud at the heart of the Great Battery Race. A startup called Envia promised General Motors a battery on which an electric car could drive 200 miles. Now the project is suspended and it’s facing lawsuits. In a long, in-depth investigation, Steve LeVine tells the full story behind what went wrong.
The company that wants you to use cuddly animals instead of English. The difficulty of texting in Japanese and Chinese drove the growth of “stickers”—cute pictures that serve to communicate emotion. Gwynn Guilford analyzes the strategy of Line, a Japanese firm that thinks it can make them huge in the West.
The best central-bank game apps. Yes, there are really smartphone games about central banking, ranging from Inflation Island to Ten-Euro-Note Tetris. Jason Karaian reviews them all and gives five gold bars to the European Central Bank’s €conomia, “a surprisingly realistic simulation of life as Mario Draghi.”
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Why Switzerland has medevac helicopters for cows. They make milk for Swiss chocolate, but Swiss farming in itself isn’t economic. However, the government supports it lavishly because it plays a unique and crucial role in the country’s environmental and social health, explains Veronique Greenwood in Aeon.
How to find fulfilling work. Maria Popova summarizes the book of this title by Roman Krznaric, a co-founder of the School of Life, that explains why the five main things people seek in their work—money, status, impact, passion, and use of talent—are so elusive, and how to think correctly about the value of each one.
Why have no top executives been prosecuted for the US financial crisis? In the New York Review, Judge Jed Rakoff, a leading judicial critic of how the crisis was handled, offers a useful analysis of the complex relationship between Wall Street and Washington that suggests why nobody senior has been brought to book.
Not everyone in Silicon Valley loves bitcoin. A sizeable portion of technologists think it is at best a “a flawed but nonetheless worthwhile experiment” and at worst “synonymous with everything wrong with Silicon Valley,” writes Alex Payne, a programmer who worked at Twitter and at online banking startup Simple.
The strange story of the only sculpture on the moon. Near the Apollo 15 landing site lies a three-and-a-half inch aluminium figurine known as the Fallen Astronaut. Corey Powell in Slate recounts the bizarre, decades-long disagreement that resulted between the artist who made it and the astronaut who put it there.
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