Depression scholar confronted with the global financial crisis

Depression scholar confronted with the global financial crisis


Ben Bernanke, who received the Nobel Prize in Economics on Monday, is a Great Depression scholar who, as Federal Reserve Chairman, helped steer the United States through another major financial crisis.

Bernanke took over as Fed chairman in February 2006, just before the collapse of the US housing market, which triggered a global crisis of epic proportions.

Many analysts say Bernanke’s aggressive and unorthodox moves allowed the central bank to shore up the financial system and keep credit flowing, avoiding a repeat of a 1930s-style catastrophe.

However, his critics argue that he did little to avert the crisis and may have helped stoke the troubles when he was Fed governor under then-Chairman Alan Greenspan from 2002 to 2005, and then the Council of Economic Advisers under former President George W. Bush.

The Nobel jury awarded the prize to Bernanke, 68, along with US economists Douglas Diamond and Philip Dybvig, for “significantly improving our understanding of the role of banks in the economy, particularly in financial crises, and of the regulation of financial markets.” “

Bernanke was recognized for his analysis of “the worst economic crisis in modern history” – the Great Depression of the 1930s. He published a book based on his essays on the subject and co-authored another on the 2008 financial crisis.

He is now a senior fellow at Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution and senior advisor to wealth management firms Pimco and Citadel – appointments that raised concerns about the “revolving door” between Washington and Wall Street.

– ‘Creative Leadership’ –

In recognition of his actions during the global financial crisis, he was named TIME magazine’s 2009 Person of the Year.

TIME recognized the former Princeton University professor as “the key player running the world’s most important economy.”

“His creative leadership helped make 2009 a period of weak recovery rather than catastrophic depression,” wrote TIME senior writer Michael Grunwald.

Grunwald said at the time that Bernanke still had “unmatched power over our money, our jobs, our savings and our national future.”

Bernanke served under Bush as Fed Governor and was held in office by the Democratic successor to the Republican leader, Barack Obama.

The former central banker has stressed the importance of transparency in Fed communications and has distanced himself from Greenspan’s turgid, jargon-laden statements.

And unlike his predecessor, Bernanke often spoke to reporters.

Joseph Brusuelas, a director at Moody’s Analytics, once said that the Fed’s unorthodox response to the global financial crisis was “unprecedented” as it cut interest rates to zero and “flooded the financial system with liquidity.”

The Fed’s actions, Brusuelas said, “slowly restored confidence in the banking system.”

Jeffrey Sachs, an economist at Columbia University, said at the time of Lehman Brothers’ collapse in September 2008, “a depression seemed possible” but central bank action “prevented the financial markets from collapsing”.

– Lehman ‘Error’ –

But others criticized him for not being better at predicting the severity of the economic crisis: In 2007, when the first signs of the subprime mortgage crisis began to appear, Bernanke assured Congress that the fallout would be limited.

Others have accused Bernanke of failing to cut rates quickly once the depth of the crisis became apparent. The Fed instead took a dovish stance on rate cuts before an emergency cut in January 2008.

Among Bernanke’s critics, the late economist Allan Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon University said Lehman’s collapse was a mistake of historic proportions.

“Failing Lehman without warning is one of the worst mistakes in Federal Reserve history,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal essay.

Bernanke was born on December 13, 1953 in Augusta, Georgia, the son of a pharmacist and a teacher. He grew up in a Jewish household, a minority in the heavily Christian community.

Growing up in Dillon, South Carolina—a farming town of 7,500—he was a star scholar, scoring near perfect on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

He studied economics at Harvard, graduating with honors in 1975 before earning his doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He worked at Princeton for 17 years before joining the Federal Reserve Board in 2002.

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