At first glance, it may seem puzzling that Fed officials are going out of their way to deny the QE association. After all, why would they look to negate a potential positive effect on the economy when it appears increasingly vulnerable to weakness from abroad. Two reasons may be playing a role.

First, there is growing recognition of the risks of unconventional monetary policy becoming not only ineffective but, as in the case of the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan, potentially counter-productive — a set of risks that I detailed if central banks remain “the only game in town” for too long, in my book with that title. They include encouraging excessive risk-taking that could harm future financial stability and undermine economic well-being; promoting inefficient allocations of resources, including support for zombie activities that eat away at the resilience and agility of the economy; encouraging contradictory behavior, such as higher savings to counter low interest income; aggravating wealth inequality and the dispersion of opportunities that comes with that; and undermining the policy credibility that is so crucial to the effectiveness of central banks’ forward guidance.

Second, the Fed may not wish to signal that it’s being influenced by political pressure when it has been on the receiving end of considerable White House attacks for refusing to turn to QE. Moreover quite a few economists have questioned why the Fed continues to signal an intention to reduce interest rates at a time of historically low unemployment and other relatively solid economic indicators.

All these contradictory considerations point to a larger issue that should be of particular concern to people like me who believe that well-functioning and effective central banks are central to the health of an economy.  They are increasingly vulnerable to lose-lose propositions, regardless of whether its motivation, communication or intended impact. And there is little they can do to counter this other than hope that others, with better-suited policy tools, will finally step up to their responsibilities.

Mohamed A. El-Erian is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is the chief economic adviser at Allianz SE, the parent company of Pimco, where he served as CEO and co-CIO. He is president-elect of Queens' College, Cambridge, senior adviser at Gramercy and professor of practice at Wharton. His books include "The Only Game in Town" and "When Markets Collide."

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