Bernanke Praised FDR’s “Willingness to Be Aggressive and to Experiment”

Bernanke apparently endorsed FDR’s policy volatility. To the contrary, Amity Shlaes has persuasively argued that the policy volatility increased uncertainty, and discouraged entrepreneurial ventures, thereby lengthening and deepening the Great Depression.
Bernanke taking FDR as a mentor, is deeply disturbing. (And I regret an earlier entry in which I placed trust in Bernanke’s judgment.)

(p. A2) While Ben Bernanke was teaching economics at Princeton University in late 1999, he admonished officials in Japan for doing too little to get their country out of its economic funk. Their model, he said, should be Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Roosevelt’s specific actions were, I think, less important than his willingness to be aggressive and to experiment — in short, to do whatever was necessary to get the country moving again,” Mr. Bernanke said in a paper on Japan’s paralysis.

Nearly a decade later, Mr. Bernanke, now the Federal Reserve chairman, is trying to follow his own advice.
. . .
Mr. Bernanke’s choices could damage several objectives that the Fed holds sacrosanct. Low interest rates and an exploding balance sheet could some day cause inflation. With so much slack in the economy and commodities prices tumbling, that looks like a far-fetched risk today. But the Fed’s novel new lending programs could be difficult to unwind quickly if the economy turns around unexpectedly, potentially leaving the financial system with more stimulus than it needs — along with inflation.
Mr. Reinhart notes that Mr. Bernanke’s approach also could open the Fed to political intrusion, something central bankers have fought for decades to avoid.
The recent debate about an auto-industry bailout was one example of the risk. Earlier this month, Sen. Christopher Dodd wrote to Mr. Bernanke asking if the central bank could help Detroit. Mr. Bernanke politely responded that he wanted to stay out of industrial policy. But after Senate action failed, the Connecticut Democrat raised the prospect of Fed involvement again at a news conference Friday.
“When the Federal Reserve is involved in more markets, more instruments and is seen to have an unlimited balance sheet and flexibility to use that balance sheet, it will be subject to political pressure,” Mr. Reinhart said.
. . .
Then there’s the biggest risk of all: the economy might not turn around. History was kind to Mr. Roosevelt because the economy got moving again on his watch, though of course it didn’t really turn around until the U.S. became enmeshed in a world war. Mr. Bernanke will be a hero if the economy rebounds. But if it doesn’t, the judgment is certain to be much tougher.

For the full commentary, see:

JON HILSENRATH. “THE OUTLOOK; Bernanke’s Fed, Echoing FDR, Pursues Ideas and Action.” Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 15, 2008): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Amity Shlaes’ wonderful book, is:
Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

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