Economics

Will Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve bail out Europe?

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke is a student of the Great Depression. And he has an apologetic view of the Fed’s role in it. As he said in a 2002 speech on Milton Friedman’s 90th birthday, “Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna [Schwartz, Friedman's coauthor]: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”

And with the European Central Bank about to reprise the role of the Fed in the 1930s, economic analyst Ed Yardeni thinks Bernanke may well ride to the rescue of the eurozone and the global economy:

Given the ECB’s reluctance to act, I suspect that the Fed will spearhead the formation of a Global Liquidity Facility (GLF) to avert a global financial meltdown. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke demonstrated that he is a master at putting together such emergency measures back in 2008. In effect, it would act as the world’s central bank. Mr. Bernanke is clearly very worried about the prospect that the European sovereign debt crisis is a contagion that could spread to the US, as evidenced by his bizarre town hall meeting with troops returning from Iraq on November 10. The GLF would receive deposits from the Fed and other participating central banks, including the ECB. The funds would be used to buy the bonds of debt-challenged governments that would be required to accept strict supervision of their fiscal and regulatory policies by the IMF.

You might be thinking that I’ve gone mad. Actually, I’m simply predicting the behavior of our wild and crazy Fed officials. Last Wednesday, Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren noted that the Fed and the ECB worked together during the 2008 global market meltdown, and “if there was a (new) crisis I would expect that there would be some coordinated activities (again). We would want to make sure … that people have access to short-term credit markets.” He added, “We’re not at that point right now, but there are clearly stresses in short-term credit markets.” He said, “We’re watching that very closely, and if it becomes appropriate for us to take more actions to try to relieve that, I fully assume that we would do something.” Mr. Rosengren isn’t on the FOMC, but he is one of Mr. Bernanke’s most supportive colleagues.

There would certainly be a firestorm in Congress, but Bernanke is unlikely to seek (or if he did, get) another term anyway.

 

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