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Dean Baker on The Checkered Past of Ben Bernanke

By Dean Baker
The retrospectives of Ben Bernanke on his leaving the Fed seem to be coming in overly positive. While there is much that is positive about his tenure as Fed chair, many of these accounts have a rather selective view of history.
The part that is clearly wrong is treating Bernanke as a bookish academic who got plucked down in the middle of a financial crisis that was not his making. While Bernanke had a distinguished academic career, he had been in the middle of the action in Washington since 2002. That was when he was selected to be a governor of the Fed. He served as a governor at Greenspan’s side until he went to serve as head of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers in June of 2005. After a brief stint as the chief economist in the Bush administration he returned to take over as chair of the Fed in January of 2006.
It was during the period that Bernanke was at the Fed and his tenure in the Bush administration that the housing bubble grew to such dangerous levels. While Bernanke does not deserve as much blame for this as Greenspan, there were few people better positioned to try to deflate the housing bubble before it posed such a large risk to the economy. During this time Bernanke was dismissive of suggestions that the unprecedented run-up in house prices posed any problem. There is no evidence that he dissented in any important way from Greenspan’s view that the Fed need not be concerned about the housing bubble or the innovations in the financial industry that was supporting it.
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