To Bernanke or Not to Bernanke
Four more years of the Fed chairman?
Such was the position Ben Bernanke, preeminent scholar of the Great Depression, found himself in when he took over at the Federal Reserve in February 2006. The US housing market was just beginning to show signs of deterioration, and decades of excessive debt and mispriced risk were about to explode into the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s.
Now, as the Fed finishes up its June monetary policy meeting, Bernanke will remain on Capitol Hill to face questions concerning his role in the crisis and whether he's the best candidate to lead the Fed into the future. With the chairman's term ending in January 2010, President Obama has 6 months to decide whether Bernanke's performance under extreme duress -- and the unprecedented measures he took to save the global financial system -- are worthy of another 4 years.
Bernanke is a polarizing figure -- indeed, he has been since he first came to office. Coming in as he did after almost 20 years of authoritarian rule under "the Maestro," Alan Greenspan, Bernanke sought to downplay the role of Fed chairman. Some hail him as a savior: Who better at the helm during an historic credit crisis than the economist who's arguably spent his entire academic career preparing for just such an assignment?
Bernanke's papers, his dissertation, and the speeches he's made over the past 3 decades read almost like a script for handling the type of maelstrom he's faced during the past 24 months. Supporters argue that Bernanke prepared himself well -- that he performed admirably under wildly difficult circumstances.
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