Quantitative Easing: Definition, How It Works, and It's Impact on the Economy

ELI5 Definition
Last updated: Jul 10, 2023

Quantitative Easing

Quantitative easing is a monetary policy tool used by central banks, including the Federal Reserve in the United States, to stimulate the economy when traditional methods, such as adjusting interest rates, are no longer effective. In this post, we will explore what quantitative easing is, how it works, and its potential impact on the economy. Let's dive in!

💡 Key Ideas

  • Quantitative easing (QE) is a monetary policy tool used by central banks to stimulate the economy by injecting money into the financial system through the purchase of government bonds or other assets.

  • The goals of quantitative easing include boosting economic growth, fighting deflation, and lowering long-term interest rates.

  • Risks associated with quantitative easing include potential inflationary pressures, asset price distortions, misallocation of capital, currency devaluation, dependency on central bank support, and long-term debt implications.

  • Quantitative easing has been used in real-world scenarios, such as during the global financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, to stabilize financial markets, support economic recovery, and provide liquidity to businesses and individuals.

  • The effectiveness of quantitative easing depends on various factors, including economic conditions, implementation strategies, and coordination with fiscal policies.

What is Quantitative Easing?

Quantitative easing (QE) is a process through which a central bank injects money into the economy by purchasing government bonds or other financial assets from banks and financial institutions. The aim is to increase the money supply, encourage lending and borrowing, and stimulate economic growth.

How Does Quantitative Easing Work?

Here's a simplified explanation of how quantitative easing works:

  1. Central Bank Intervention: The central bank, such as the Federal Reserve, announces a quantitative easing program and specifies the amount of assets it intends to purchase. These assets typically include government bonds, but they can also include corporate bonds or mortgage-backed securities.

  2. Open Market Operations: The central bank conducts open market operations by buying the specified assets from banks and other financial institutions. This increases the demand for these assets and their prices, while reducing their yields or interest rates.

  3. Increased Bank Reserves: When the central bank purchases these assets, it pays for them by crediting the bank accounts of the sellers, thereby increasing their bank reserves.

  4. Liquidity Injection: The increase in bank reserves provides additional liquidity to banks, enabling them to lend more to businesses and consumers. This is expected to stimulate borrowing, spending, and investment in the economy.

Goals and Impact of Quantitative Easing

Quantitative easing is primarily implemented to achieve the following goals:

  1. Boosting Economic Growth: By increasing the money supply and encouraging lending, quantitative easing aims to stimulate economic activity, including consumer spending, business investment, and job creation.

  2. Fighting Deflation and Promoting Inflation: During periods of low inflation or deflation, quantitative easing can help increase inflation rates by encouraging borrowing, spending, and investment.

  3. Lowering Long-term Interest Rates: Quantitative easing can lead to a decrease in long-term interest rates, such as mortgage rates. This can incentivize borrowing for large purchases and stimulate housing and other interest-rate-sensitive sectors.

The impact of quantitative easing on the economy can vary and is subject to several factors, including the overall economic conditions and the effectiveness of transmission mechanisms. Some potential effects of quantitative easing include:

  • Increased Asset Prices: Quantitative easing can lead to higher prices in financial markets, including stocks and bonds, as investors search for higher returns in a low-interest-rate environment.

  • Weaker Currency: When a central bank implements quantitative easing, it increases the supply of money, which can potentially weaken the value of the currency relative to other currencies.

  • Inflationary Pressure: While one of the goals of quantitative easing is to increase inflation rates, if the money supply grows too rapidly or if the economy does not respond as expected, it can lead to excessive inflationary pressure.

  • Debt Concerns: Quantitative easing involves purchasing government bonds, which can increase the national debt. However, central banks usually have measures in place to manage and unwind their balance sheets over time.

Risks of Quantitative Easing

While quantitative easing is a tool used by central banks to stimulate the economy, it also carries certain risks. Here are some key risks associated with quantitative easing:

  1. Inflationary Risks: One of the primary concerns of quantitative easing is the potential for excessive inflation. When the central bank injects a significant amount of money into the economy, it can lead to an increase in prices for goods and services. If inflation rises too rapidly, it can erode purchasing power, reduce consumer confidence, and disrupt economic stability.

  2. Asset Price Distortions: Quantitative easing can drive up the prices of financial assets, such as stocks and bonds. This can create asset price bubbles and increase the risk of market instability. If asset prices become detached from their underlying fundamentals, it can lead to excessive risk-taking, speculative behavior, and potential market crashes when the quantitative easing program ends or is scaled back.

  3. Misallocation of Capital: When central banks implement quantitative easing, the increased liquidity can flow disproportionately into certain sectors or markets, leading to a misallocation of capital. This can result in resources being directed towards less productive or risky investments, potentially distorting the overall structure of the economy.

  4. Currency Devaluation: As a central bank expands its balance sheet through quantitative easing, it increases the money supply, potentially leading to a devaluation of the currency. A weaker currency can have implications for international trade, import prices, and inflation expectations.

  5. Dependency and Exit Challenges: Extended periods of quantitative easing can create a dependency on the central bank's support. Exiting from quantitative easing can be challenging as it requires carefully managing the reduction of the central bank's balance sheet without causing market disruptions or abrupt tightening of financial conditions. Poorly executed exits from quantitative easing programs can result in market volatility and economic instability.

  6. Long-Term Debt Burden: Quantitative easing involves the purchase of government bonds, which can increase the national debt. While this is a necessary measure during times of economic crisis, the accumulation of debt over the long term can create challenges for fiscal sustainability and future generations.

It's important for policymakers to carefully consider these risks and strike a balance between stimulating economic growth and managing the potential negative consequences of quantitative easing.

Real-World Uses of Quantitative Easing

Quantitative easing has been employed by central banks in various countries during times of economic stress and crisis. Let's explore some real-world uses of quantitative easing and the rationale behind them:

  1. Global Financial Crisis (2007-2009): Following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, the global financial system faced severe strain. Central banks, including the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, implemented quantitative easing as an emergency measure to stabilize financial markets, prevent a complete economic collapse, and stimulate lending and economic growth.

  2. Great Recession (2008-2009): The severe economic downturn that followed the financial crisis prompted central banks to use quantitative easing as a tool to counter deflationary pressures and promote economic recovery. By injecting liquidity into the financial system, central banks aimed to boost lending, support asset prices, and restore confidence in the economy.

  3. COVID-19 Pandemic (2020-2021): The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant disruption of economic activity worldwide. Central banks once again implemented quantitative easing to address the economic fallout. By purchasing government bonds and other assets, central banks aimed to stabilize financial markets, lower borrowing costs, and provide support to businesses and individuals during the crisis.

  4. Japan's Experience: Quantitative easing has been a prominent feature of Japan's monetary policy for an extended period. The Bank of Japan implemented multiple rounds of quantitative easing to combat deflationary pressures and revive economic growth. The prolonged use of quantitative easing in Japan provides insights into the challenges and limitations of this policy tool.

It's important to note that the effectiveness of quantitative easing as a policy tool can vary depending on the specific economic conditions, the implementation approach, and the level of coordination with fiscal policies.


Quantitative easing is a tool used by central banks to stimulate the economy when traditional monetary policy measures are insufficient. By injecting money into the economy, increasing liquidity, and encouraging lending and borrowing, quantitative easing aims to promote economic growth, fight deflation, and lower long-term interest rates. However, it is important to carefully manage the potential risks and side effects associated with this policy tool.

Understanding quantitative easing and its impact on the economy can help individuals and businesses navigate the financial landscape, make informed investment decisions, and stay updated on the actions of central banks.