Ben Bernanke

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As the Great Recession deepened, Bernanke oversaw some unorthodox measures. Under his guidance, the Fed lowered its funds interest rate from 5.25% to 0.0% within less than a year. When this was considered insufficient to abate the liquidity crisis, the Fed initiated quantitative easing, creating $1.3 trillion from November 2008 to June 2010 and using the created money to buy financial assets from banks and from the government.

Second term

Bernanke answers questions in 2013 at FOMC press conference Bernanke Briefing 2013 (9088486134) (cropped).jpg
Bernanke answers questions in 2013 at FOMC press conference

On August 25, 2009, President Obama announced he would nominate Bernanke to a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve. [43] In a short statement on Martha's Vineyard, with Bernanke standing at his side, Obama said Bernanke's background, temperament, courage and creativity helped to prevent another Great Depression in 2008. [44] When Senate Banking Committee hearings on his nomination began on December 3, 2009, several senators from both parties indicated they would not support a second term. [45] [46] [47] [48] [49] [50]

However, Bernanke was confirmed for a second term as chairman on January 28, 2010, by a 70–30 vote of the full Senate, [51] the narrowest margin, at the time, for any occupant of the position. [52] (For the roll-call vote, see Obama confirmations, 2010.) The Senate first voted 77–23 to end debate, Bernanke winning more than the 60 approval votes needed to overcome the possibility of a filibuster. [53] On a second vote to confirm, the 30 dissents came from 11 Democrats, 18 Republicans and one independent. [53]

Bernanke was succeeded as chair of the Federal Reserve by Janet Yellen, the first woman to hold the position. Yellen was nominated on October 9, 2013, by President Obama and confirmed by the United States Senate on January 6, 2014. [54]

Controversies as Federal Reserve Chairman

Bernanke has been subjected to criticism concerning the late-2000s financial crisis. According to The New York Times , Bernanke "has been attacked for failing to foresee the financial crisis, for bailing out Wall Street, and, most recently, for injecting an additional $600 billion into the banking system to give the slow recovery a boost." [55]

Merrill Lynch merger with Bank of America

In a letter to Congress from then-New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo dated April 23, 2009, Bernanke was mentioned along with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in allegations of fraud concerning the acquisition of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America. The letter alleged that the extent of the losses at Merrill Lynch were not disclosed to Bank of America by Bernanke and Paulson. When Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis informed Paulson that Bank of America was exiting the merger by invoking the "Materially Adverse Change" (MAC) clause, Paulson immediately called Lewis to a meeting in Washington. At the meeting, which allegedly took place on December 21, 2008, Paulson told Lewis that he and the board would be replaced if they invoked the MAC clause and additionally not to reveal the extent of the losses to shareholders. Paulson stated to Cuomo's office that he was directed by Bernanke to threaten Lewis in this manner. [56]

Congressional hearings into these allegations were conducted on June 25, 2009, with Bernanke testifying that he did not bully Ken Lewis. Under intense questioning by members of Congress, Bernanke said, "I never said anything about firing the board and the management [of Bank of America]." In further testimony, Bernanke said the Fed did nothing illegal or unethical in its efforts to convince Bank of America not to end the merger. Lewis told the panel that authorities expressed "strong views" but said he would not characterize their stance as improper. [57]

AIG bailout

According to a January 26, 2010, column in The Huffington Post , a whistleblower has disclosed documents providing "'troubling details' of Bernanke's role in the AIG bailout". Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky said on CNBC that he had seen documents which show that Bernanke overruled recommendations from his staff in bailing out AIG. The columnist says this raises questions as to whether or not the decision to bail out AIG was necessary. Senators from both parties who support Bernanke say his actions averted worse problems and outweighed whatever responsibility this may have created for the financial crisis. [58]

Edward Quince

The crisis in 2008 also made then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke create a pseudonym, Edward Quince. According to the Wall Street Journal, the false name was evidence in a class-action lawsuit against the government by shareholders of AIG, which had been given a Fed-backed bailout when it was near collapse. One of Mr. Quince's emails reads, "We think they are days from failure. They think it is a temporary problem. This disconnect is dangerous." [59]

Upon the revelation of the Quince pseudonym during the Starr v. United States trial, The New York Times created a cocktail inspired by Mr. Bernanke's chosen alias: the "Rye & Quince." [60]

Economic views

With his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, looking on, Chairman Ben Bernanke addresses President George W. Bush and others after being sworn into the Federal Reserve post. Also on stage with the President are Mrs. Anna Bernanke and Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Ben Bernanke sworn in to the Federal Reserve Post.jpg
With his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, looking on, Chairman Ben Bernanke addresses President George W. Bush and others after being sworn into the Federal Reserve post. Also on stage with the President are Mrs. Anna Bernanke and Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Bernanke has given several lectures at the London School of Economics on monetary theory and policy. He has written two textbooks: an intermediate-level macroeconomics textbook coauthored with Andrew Abel (and also Dean Croushore in later editions) and an introductory textbook, covering both microeconomics and macroeconomics, coauthored with Robert H. Frank. Bernanke was the Director of the Monetary Economics Program of the National Bureau of Economic Research and the editor of the American Economic Review. He is among the 50 most published economists in the world according to IDEAS/RePEc. [61]

Bernanke is particularly interested in the economic and political causes of the Great Depression, on which he has published numerous academic journal articles. Before Bernanke's work, the dominant monetarist theory of the Great Depression was Milton Friedman's view that it had been largely caused by the Federal Reserve's having reduced the money supply and has on several occasions argued that one of the biggest mistakes made during the period was to raise interest rates too early. [62] In a speech on Milton Friedman's ninetieth birthday (November 8, 2002), Bernanke said:

"Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna [Schwartz, Friedman's coauthor]: Regarding the Great Depression, you're right. We did it. We're very sorry. But thanks to you, we won't do it again." [63] [64]

Bernanke has cited Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz in his decision to lower interest rates to zero. [65] Anna Schwartz, however, was highly critical of Bernanke and wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times advising Obama against his reappointment as chair of the Federal Reserve. [66] Bernanke focused less on the role of the Federal Reserve and more on the role of private banks and financial institutions. [67]

Bernanke found that the financial disruptions of 1930–33 reduced the efficiency of the credit allocation process; and that the resulting higher cost and reduced availability of credit acted to depress aggregate demand, identifying an effect he called the financial accelerator. When faced with a mild downturn, banks are likely to significantly cut back lending and other risky ventures. This further hurts the economy, creating a vicious cycle and potentially turning a mild recession into a major depression. [68] Economist Brad DeLong, who had previously advocated his own theory for the Great Depression, notes that the global financial crisis of 2008–2009 has raised the pertinence of Bernanke's theory. [69]

In 2002, following coverage of concerns about deflation in the business news, Bernanke gave a speech about the topic. [70] In that speech, he mentioned that the government in a fiat money system owns the physical means of creating money and to maintain market liquidity. Control of the money supply implies that the government can always avoid deflation by simply issuing more money. He said "The U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at no cost." [70]

He referred to a statement made by Milton Friedman about using a "helicopter drop" of money into the economy to fight deflation. Bernanke's critics have since referred to him as "Helicopter Ben" or to his "helicopter printing press." In a footnote to his speech, Bernanke noted that "people know that inflation erodes the real value of the government's debt and, therefore, that it is in the interest of the government to create some inflation." [70]

For example, while Greenspan publicly supported President Clinton's deficit reduction plan and the Bush tax cuts, Bernanke, when questioned about taxation policy, said that it was none of his business, his exclusive remit being monetary policy, and said that fiscal policy and wider society related issues were what politicians were for and got elected for. But Bernanke has been identified by The Wall Street Journal and a close colleague as a "libertarian-Republican" in the mold of Alan Greenspan. [65]

In 2005 Bernanke coined the term saving glut, the idea that relatively high level of worldwide savings was holding down interest rates and financing the current account deficits of the United States. (Alternative reasons include relatively low worldwide investment coupled with low U.S. savings.) [71]

As the recession began in 2007, many economists urged Bernanke (and the rest of the Federal Open Market Committee) to lower the federal funds rate below what it had done. For example, Larry Summers, later named Director of the White House's National Economic Council under President Obama, wrote in the Financial Times on November 26, 2007—in a column in which he argued that recession was likely—that "maintaining demand must be the over-arching macro-economic priority. That means the Federal Reserve System has to get ahead of the curve and recognize—as the market already has—that levels of the Federal Funds rate that were neutral when the financial system was working normally are quite contractionary today." [72]

David Leonhardt of The New York Times wrote, on January 30, 2008, that "Dr. Bernanke's forecasts have been too sunny over the last six months. [On] the other hand, his forecast was a lot better than Wall Street's in mid-2006. Back then, he resisted calls for further interest rate increases because he thought the economy might be weakening." [73]

After the Federal Reserve

In a speech at the American Economics Association conference in January 2014, Bernanke reflected on his tenure as chairman of the Federal Reserve. He expressed his hope that economic growth was building momentum and stated that he was confident that the central bank would be able to withdraw its support smoothly. [74]

In an October 2014 speech, Bernanke disclosed that he was unsuccessful in efforts to refinance his home. He suggested that lenders "may have gone a little bit too far on mortgage credit conditions". [75]

Since February 2014, Bernanke has been employed as a Distinguished Fellow in Residence with the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution. [76]

On April 16, 2015, it was announced publicly that Bernanke will work with Citadel, the $25 billion hedge fund founded by billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin, as a senior adviser. [77] In the same month it was revealed that Bernanke would also join Pimco as a senior advisor. [78]

In his 2015 book, The Courage to Act, Bernanke revealed that he was no longer a Republican, having "lost patience with Republicans' susceptibility to the know-nothing-ism of the far right. ... I view myself now as a moderate independent, and I think that's where I'll stay." [79]

Statements on deficit reduction and reform of Social Security/Medicare

Bernanke favors reducing the U.S. budget deficit, particularly by reforming the Social Security and Medicare entitlement programs. During a speech delivered on April 7, 2010, he warned that the U.S. must soon develop a "credible" plan to address the pending funding crisis faced by "entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare" or "in the longer run we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth." [80] [81] Bernanke said that formulation of such a plan would help the economy in the near term, even if actual implementation of the plan might have to wait until the economic outlook improves. [82]

His remarks were most likely intended for the federal government's executive and legislative branches, [83] since entitlement reform is a fiscal exercise that will be accomplished by the Congress and the President [84] [85] rather than a monetary task falling within the implementation powers of the Federal Reserve. Bernanke also pointed out that deficit reduction will necessarily consist of either raising taxes, cutting entitlement payments and other government spending, or some combination of both. [86]

Awards and honors

Bibliography

See also

Footnotes

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  2. Bernanke's first name is Ben, not Benjamin, and "Ben Shalom" is not abbreviated. (See: "Big Ben", Slate, October 24, 2005; see also "Presidential Nomination: Ben Shalom Bernanke", George W. Bush White House, January 2009)
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<i>A Monetary History of the United States</i>

A Monetary History of the United States, 1867–1960 is a book written in 1963 by Nobel Prize–winning economist Milton Friedman and Anna J. Schwartz. It uses historical time series and economic analysis to argue the then-novel proposition that changes in the money supply profoundly influenced the U.S. economy, especially the behavior of economic fluctuations. The implication they draw is that changes in the money supply had unintended adverse effects, and that sound monetary policy is necessary for economic stability. Economic historians see it as one of the most influential economics books of the century. The chapter dealing with the causes of the Great Depression was published as a stand-alone book titled The Great Contraction, 1929–1933.

Great Moderation Phenomenon in economies of developed nations since the mid-1980s

The Great Moderation is a period starting from the mid-1980s until 2007 characterized by the reduction in the volatility of business cycle fluctuations in developed nations compared with the decades before. It is believed to be caused by institutional and structural changes, particularly in central bank policies, in the second half of the twentieth century.

James B. Bullard Federal Reserve Bank president

James Brian Bullard is the chief executive officer and 12th president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, positions he has held since 2008. He is currently serving a term that began on March 1, 2021. In 2014, he was named the 7th most influential economist in the world in terms of media influence.

Great Depression Worldwide economic depression (1929–1941)

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across the world; in most countries, it started in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. The Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how intensely the global economy can decline.

William C. Dudley American banker

William C. Dudley is an American economist who served as the president of Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2009 to 2018 and as vice-chairman of the Federal Open Market Committee. He was appointed to the position on January 27, 2009, following the confirmation of his predecessor, Timothy F. Geithner, as United States Secretary of the Treasury.

Stimulus (economics) Attempts to use monetary or fiscal policy to stimulate the economy

In economics, stimulus refers to attempts to use monetary policy or fiscal policy to stimulate the economy. Stimulus can also refer to monetary policies such as lowering interest rates and quantitative easing.

Vincent Raymond Reinhart is the Chief Economist for BNY Mellon Asset Management.

<i>Lords of Finance</i> 2009 book by Liaquat Ahamed

Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World is a nonfiction book by Liaquat Ahamed about events leading up to and culminating in the Great Depression as told through the personal histories of the heads of the Central Banks of the world's four major economies at the time: Benjamin Strong Jr. of the New York Federal Reserve, Montagu Norman of the Bank of England, Émile Moreau of the Banque de France, and Hjalmar Schacht of the Reichsbank. The text was published on January 22, 2009 by Penguin Press. The book was generally well received by critics and won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for History. Because the book was published during the midst of the financial crisis of 2007–2010, the book subject matter was seen as very relevant to current financial events.

In monetary policy of the United States, the term Fedspeak is what Alan Blinder called "a turgid dialect of English" used by Federal Reserve Board chairmen in making wordy, vague, and ambiguous statements. The strategy, which was used most prominently by Alan Greenspan, was used to prevent financial markets from overreacting to the chairman's remarks. The coinage is an intentional parallel to Newspeak of Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel by George Orwell.

The Great Recession in the United States was a severe financial crisis combined with a deep recession. While the recession officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, it took many years for the economy to recover to pre-crisis levels of employment and output. This slow recovery was due in part to households and financial institutions paying off debts accumulated in the years preceding the crisis along with restrained government spending following initial stimulus efforts. It followed the bursting of the housing bubble, the housing market correction and subprime mortgage crisis.

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Further reading

Ben Bernanke
Ben Bernanke official portrait.jpg
14th Chair of the Federal Reserve
In office
February 1, 2006 January 31, 2014