David Prosser: An odd time to applaud Bernanke


Outlook Congratulations then to Ben Bernanke, Time magazine's person of the year. In a year when the competition for the title was not hotly contested – judging by the other contenders the magazine says it considered – the US Federal Reserve chairman won because without him "a weak economy could have been much, much weaker".

Still, this was a brave choice because although Mr Bernanke has now won a second term at the Fed – he is due at a confirmation hearing today – the chairman has no shortage of critics, and not just among Republicans who believe his economic stimulus programme will eventually cause an inflationary crisis.

The most serious accusation facing "Helicopter Ben" is that, for a man whose academic area of expertise was the 1930s depression, he was remarkably slow to spot a disastrous recession coming down the tracks towards the US and the world.

Indeed, the Fed seemed to wake up to the risks facing America in one dramatic moment, announcing in January 2008 that it was cutting interest rates by 0.75 percentage points, the biggest monetary policy intervention for 25 years.

In fact, the Fed took forever to wake up to the seriousness of the credit crunch, or the danger it might prompt a devastating recession. In the summer of 2007, as fears began to grow about problems in the sub-prime lending market, Mr Bernanke said he thought a crisis could cost as much as $100bn. Two-and-a-half years later, that has proved to be an 80-fold underestimate.

Having been complacent about the US recession, the Fed did, of course, intervene in unprecedented fashion once the penny dropped. And maybe the economy would indeed have been much weaker this year had it not done so. Still, the irony of Mr Bernanke's award will not be lost on US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, for whom the strength of the US economy during 2009 has not been enough to prevent calls for his resignation. The 10 per cent unemployment rate in America might have been considered reason not to applaud anyone holding office that comes with responsibility for managing the economy.

It is only possible to assess the qualities of policymakers such as these some years after they have left office, when the full consequences of their actions can be seen. The reputation of Alan Greenspan, for example, has been reassessed in the light of the role he played in the asset bubbles we now realise developed during and after his period at the Fed. Mr Bernanke may yet come to be seen as one of the great occupiers of this office. But with the world economy not out of the woods yet – and millions of Americans out of work – this award looks strangely premature.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power