President Obama has re-nominated Ben Bernanke to sit as Chairman of the Federal Reserve for another four-year term, following glowing praises of Bernanke’s supposed financial genius in most of the media for his handling of the current economic crisis, while Obama himself has suggested that Bernanke helped save the US from another Great Depression.
Paul Amery commented the other day at Seeking Alpha that:
In fairness to Bernanke, nowhere in his remarks does he make such a grandiloquent claim, unlike British Prime Minister Brown, who did just that last December in the U.K. parliament.
However, underlying Bernanke’s narrative of events is the U.S. central bank’s conviction that the panic that hit global markets last fall was a kind of act of God, a phenomenon that was “collectively irrational”, and which the Fed contained by its policy of “lending freely against sound collateral.”
Is this fair, or does Bernanke’s speech signify that U.S. policymakers have understood nothing and learned nothing?
Bernanke asserts in the final paragraph of his speech that “we have avoided the worst”. He may be right, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’m more inclined to agree with Willem Buiter, who wrote recently in the Financial Times that “[t]he US Treasury, the Congress, the Fed and the other financial regulators have, through their behaviour since August 2007, confirmed and re-inforced the incentives for excessive risk taking by crossborder banks and any other financial institution deemed too systemically important to fail. The groundwork for the next financial boom and bust cycle, worse than what we are just emerging from, has been put in place.“
So exactly whose world has Bernanke “saved”, if anyones?
Robert Pollin is Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He is the founding co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI). His research centers on macroeconomics, conditions for low-wage workers in the U.S. and globally, the analysis of financial markets, and the economics of building a clean-energy economy in the U.S. His books include A Measure of Fairness: The Economics of Living Wages and Minimum Wages in the US and Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity.
Pollin talks with The Real News Network about Bernanke and the Feds handing of the economic crisis, and while reminding that Bernanke, as the top bank regulator in the country, played a central role in the creation of the current economic crisis, points out that it’s more important that the Fed as a whole be reviewed, rather than falling for the distractions of the individual who heads it up.
It would seem that the only world Bernanke and the Fed have “saved” is the world of Wall Street and the oligarchs who rule the world of everyone else, who all have a serious problem developing rapidly.
As Chris Hedges explained earlier in August in “No Bailout Can Stop The Sinking“:
The corporate managers and government officials trying to fix the economic meltdown are pouring money and resources into the financial sector because they are trained only to manage and sustain the established system, not change it.
“Bankrupt corporate capitalism is on its way to bankrupting the socialism that is trying to save it,” he added. “That is the end stage. If they no longer have socialism to save them, then we are into feudalism. We are into private police, gated communities, and serfs with a 21st-century nomenclature.”
The United States will not be able to raise another $3- or $4-trillion, especially with our commitments now totalling more than $12-trillion, to fix the mess.
It was not long ago that such profligate government spending was unthinkable. There was an $800-billion limit placed on the Federal Reserve. The economic stimulus and the bailouts will not bring back our casino capitalism. And as the meltdown shows no signs of abating, and the bailouts show no sign of working, the recklessness and desperation of our capitalist overlords have increased.
The cost to the working and middle class is becoming unsustainable. The Fed reported that households lost $5.1-trillion, or 9 per cent, of their wealth in the last three months of 2008, the most ever in a single quarter in the 57-year history of record-keeping by the central bank. For the full year, household wealth dropped $11.1-trillion, or about 18 per cent.
These figures did not record the decline of investments in the stock market, which has probably erased trillions more in the country’s collective net worth.
The bullet to our head, inevitable if we do not radically alter course, will be sudden. We have been borrowing at the rate of more than $2-billion a day over the last 10 years, and at some point it has to stop. The moment China, the oil-rich states, and other international investors stop buying U.S. Treasury Bonds, the dollar will become junk.
Inflation will rocket upward. We will become Weimar Germany. A furious and sustained backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually and psychologically for collapse, will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans.
A cabal of proto-fascist misfits, from Christian demagogues to simpletons like Sarah Palin to loudmouth talk-show hosts, whom we naïvely dismiss as buffoons, will find a following with promises of revenge and moral renewal. The elites, the ones with their Harvard Business School degrees and expensive vocabularies, will retreat into their sheltered enclaves of privilege and comfort. We will be left bereft, abandoned outside the gates, and at the mercy of the security state.