Ben Bernanke

Chairman of the Federal Reserve (since January 2006)

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Why He Matters

The soft-spoken, reserved and diplomatic chairman of the Federal Reserve, Bernanke will go down in history as one of the most consequential central bankers of all time. But whether that legacy will be positive or negative depends on whether his actions turn out to be sufficient to keep the United States out of a devastating multi-year downturn.

In August 2009, Bernanke had five more months to make his mark on the economy until his first term as Fed chairman expired on Jan. 31, 2010. But President Barack Obama assured that speculation about Bernanke's possible departure would not hurt the economy and nominated the Fed chairman to a second four-year term. After a brief scare because of anger towards the bank bailouts following the 2008-2009 recession, the Senate confirmed him for a second term in January 2009.

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At a Glance

  • Career History: White House Council of Economic Advisors (June 2005 to January 2006); Fed Governor (2002 to 2005); Professor of Economics at Princeton University (1985 to 2002)
  • Birthday: December 13, 1953
  • Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.
  • Alma Mater: Harvard University, B.A. (economics); Massachusetts Iinstitute of Technology, Ph.D (economics), 1975
  • Spouse: Anna
  • Web site

Path to Power

Born in Atlanta, Ga., and raised in a small South Carolina town called Dillon, Bernanke early on showed his intellectual prowess. He won the state spelling bee in 1965 and moved on to the nationals where he placed 26th. His downfall came when asked to spell the word 'edelweiss.'

The town of Dillon wasn't diverse, and Bernanke and his family were one of few kosher Jews in the area. This invited some taunts and prejudiced remarks. "There was more than one request to see my horns," Bernanke said.

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The Issues

Trying to fill the shoes of the iconic Greenspan would have been a hard job even if not for the most severe financial and economic crisis in decades. But Bernanke received praise for his handling of the 2008-2009 recession. In August 2009, President Obama appointed Bernanke to a second four-year term while vacationing in Martha's Vineyard. Bernanke's second term will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

A month later, Bernanke was talking to the liberal Washington think-tank the Brookings Institution when he declared that the 2008-2009 recession is "very likely over."

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The Network

Bernanke has made the jump from academia to public life, and has friends in both sectors. He had worked closely with Geithner, President Obama's nominee for Treasury secretary. He has also worked with with Bush Treasury Secretary Paulson and FDIC head Bair. He is a longtime friend of incoming chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Christina Romer, and a colleague of White House economic aide Larry Summers.

After becoming Fed chairman, Bernanke asked Geithner to arrange lunches and breakfasts with a variety of business leaders, including Citigroup's chairman and former Treasury secretary and Obama adviser Robert Rubin, as well JPMorgan chairman Dennis Weatherstone.

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Additional Resources

  1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/03/AR2008040300439.html
  2. Streitfeld, David, Los Angeles Times, 'Markets Could Test New Fed Chairman,' Jan. 31, 2006
  3. Irwin, Neil, "Bernanke: Recession's 'Very Likely Over,' Yet Jobs Remain Unstable," The Washington Post, Sept. 15, 2009
  4. Grunwald, Michael, "Person of the Year 2009: Ben Bernanke," Time, Dec. 16, 2009
  5. The Wall Street Journal, 'Crisis Mode: Paulson, Bernanke Strained for Consensus In Bailout,' Jon Hilsenrath, Deborah Solomon and Damian Paletta,' November 10, 2008
  6. http://www.federalreserve.gov/aboutthefed/bios/board/bernanke.htm
  7. "Geithner sees banks repaying even more TARP funds," Reuters News, May 7, 2009,
  8. Liberto, Jennifer, CNN Money, "Bernanke Gets a Second Term," Jan. 28, 2010
  9. The New York Times, 'At the Fed, an Unknown Became a Safe Choice,' Edmund L. Andrews, David Leonhardt, Eduardo Porter and Louis Uchitelle, October 26, 2005
  10. Chairman Ben S. Bernanke Speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, March 10, 2009
  11. The Washington Post, 'Bernanke Stirs Pot On Home Loan Help; U.S. Must Take Action, Fed Chairman Says,' Neil Irwin and Dina ElBoghdady, December 5, 2008
  12. Broder, John M., 'In His First Crisis on the Job, Bernanke's About-Face is Weighed,' The New York Times, Aug. 20, 2007
  13. The Wall Street Journal, Lessons of the '30s: Long Study of Great Depression Has Shaped Bernanke's Views --- Fed Nominee Learned Perils Of Deflation, Gold Standard And Pricking of Bubbles --- A Grandmother's Explanation,' Greg Ip, December 7, 2005
  14. Bohen, Caren, 'NEWSMAKER-Princeton's Bernanke will bring fresh ideas to the Fed,' Reuters News, May 8, 2002
  15. Shin, Annys and Montgomery, Lori, "Bernanke's Vision for Change," The Washington Post, March 11, 2009
  16. Cassidy, John, 'Anatomy of a Meltdown," The New Yorker, Dec. 1, 2008
  17. Andrews, Edmund L., "Ailing Banks Need $75 Billion, U.S. Says," The New York Times, May 7, 2009
  18. Newsweek, 'The Money Man; Meet Ben Bernanke, Depression scholar, unlikely superman,' Michael Hirsh, October 27, 2008
  19. Lowenstein, Roger, The New York Times Magazine, 'The Education of Ben Bernanke,' Jan. 20, 2008