Bernanke: Humble, intelligent and open-minded, but not easy to predict

In the course of three decades of economic teaching, writing and policymaking, the man who will be the 14th chairman in Fed history has become remarkable for one thing: his ability to discuss the arcane and gloomy science in clear and simple language.

Mr Greenspan's speeches, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, have been masterpieces of obscure circumlocution. By dint of his job, Mr Bernanke must give little away - but at least he will do so with more style.

But the rest will be largely a mystery. "The Fed makes the man, not the man the Fed," an old saying runs, and even the iconic Alan Greenspan proved no exception to that rule. "Just like a Supreme Court nominee, we really won't know how Bernanke will vote until he is on the job," said Peter Morici, professor of business at Maryland University.

Like Mr Greenspan when he took over in 1987, Mr Bernanke approaches office widely regarded as a Republican (indeed, like his predecessor he served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under a Republican President).

In the event, the politically savvy Mr Greenspan proved a highly independent chairman, keeping a proper distance from Republican and Democratic president alike.

There is no reason to suppose Mr Bernanke will be different.

"He is very humble, very intelligent and very open-minded," says an economist who knows him well. "He respects the data and respects other people's point of view." Despite a celebrated 2002 speech in which he indicated he would tolerate a measure of inflation of that were required to dispel a threat of deflation, Mr Bernanke is regarded as an inflation hawk, an enthusiast for public inflation targeting, and a man of deep monetary learning.

His academic career reads like a roll call of America's great places of learning: a bachelor's degree from Harvard, a doctorate from MIT, and a teaching career at MIT, Stanford and Princeton - where he has been exposed to every point of view. Among his colleagues on the faculty is Paul Krugman, who has emerged as President Bush's most vitriolic critics, on the op-ed pages of the New York Times.

Unlike most central bankers, he also has a sense of humour. His only regret about moving to the Fed, he said upon moving to the central bank in 2002, was that he would have to wear a suit.

"My suggestion that governors should signal their commitment to public service by wearing Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts has so far gone unheeded."

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