In Offense of Ben Bernanke, Part I: The Fed is Competent?

Professor Blinder writes: “To create the fearsome inflation rates envisioned by the more hysterical critics, the Fed would have to be incredibly incompetent, which it is not.

First off, I’ll admit that critics of Dr. Bernanke may use bad logic. Nevertheless, a good economist will tell you that people are rationally ignorant: The opportunity costs of becoming an expert at everything, such as nuclear physics, foreign policy, and macroeconomic policy are very high. Consequently, people take many mental shortcuts. Politics is no exception.

Politicians fill this void usually by concluding an argument such as, “that so and so is a Nazi.” Translation: “so and so” or “such and such” policy is bad. In econ-speak: the costs exceed the benefits to society. While the applied logic of politicians and pundits may be (probably) wrong, it doesn’t mean that Dr. Bernanke and the Federal Reserve don’t warrant criticism.

Now, truth be said, I believe Dr. Bernanke to be a first-rate academic and a very well-intentioned person. However, I doubt his ability (or anyone’s for that matter) as Federal Reserve chair. After all, they’ve been tasked with a fool’s errand: maintain full employment and a stable price level — and if there’s time, to maintain stable long-term interest rates. Underlying this is the premise that they can find the market-clearing interest rates better than the market itself.

You should give the Fed more credit, Professor Blinder. They failed in the early ’20s, they created and exacerbated the Great Depression, they let inflation get out of hand between the ’50s and ’80s, and there are strong theoretical propositions pinning the stock-market bubble of the 1990s and the housing bubble of the 2000s to the Federal Reserve.

If you were to read former Federal Reserve Governor Frederic Mishkin’s textbook on money and banking, one chapter documents how every decade since its inception, the Fed always found a new way to mess up. The Fed is just not that great.

Professor Blinder writes: “All in all, it looks like the nation and the world need an Economics 101 refresher. So let’s start with the basics.

Let me conclude Part I by stating: All in all, it looks like Professor Blinder needs an Economics 101 refresher too. So let’s start with the basics.

See also:
Part II: The Natural Rate of Unemployment
Part III: Bernanke, Blinder, and Underpants Gnomes