United States: Former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke lashed out at what he described as a do-nothing Congress in his new memoir, Courage to Act.

Author: Gordon Platt
Ben Bernanke says contentious politics slowed US recovery.

Despite its title, the book is largely about the limits of monetary policy. The 600-page work is not just about Bernanke’s (and his Fed colleagues’) courage. It is a condemnation of Congress for its lack of guts in the face of an economic and financial crisis.

The title was suggested by his wife, Anna, who seems to have kept him well grounded throughout the crisis. “At dinner, I would tell her about some multibillion-dollar action the Fed had taken, and she would say, ‘That’s nice,’ and remind me to take out the garbage and recyclables,” Bernanke writes.

Given his academic background as a student of economic depressions, Bernanke couldn’t help but draw comparisons. He said he understood that if the Fed didn’t go all out to prop up the economy, the US might be forced to relive the Great Depression of the 1930s. He worried that the long-term unemployed might never return to work.

The weakness of the recovery, according to Bernanke, was owing to the failure of Congress to lend the Fed a hand. Monetary policy, he observes, can do only so much in terms of printing money and warehousing debt. Congress must provide the bold plans to stimulate investment and get the economy’s juices flowing.

“The Fed can support overall job growth during an economic recovery, but it has no power to address the quality of education, the pace of technological innovation and other factors that determine if the jobs being created are good jobs with high wages,” Bernanke writes.

If the US is to realize its potential as a nation, he says, it will need a new approach to leadership. “Our politicians, and even some of our technocrats, it seems to me, focus too much on defeating ideological opponents and scoring debating points,” he says. “They focus too little on forging consensus and finding ways for everyone to win by making progress, even imperfect progress, toward shared goals.”     


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