Time giving Ben Bernanke its Person of the Year honors seems to me to say a lot about where we are as a society.
Bernanke takes office in February of 2006 holding what’s probably the second most-important job in the United States and the most important job for determining overall macroeconomic conditions. He follows basically conventional thinking and doesn’t make any unusual errors. Unfortunately, conventional thinking and normal errors lead into a major financial panic and the worst recession in 70 years. Then during the desperate fall of 2008 Bernanke takes decisive action and helps put a floor on the collapse. By spring 2009 it’s clear that this will be the worst recession since the end of the Great Depression rather than, as some had feared, the second-coming of the Depression. At this point he basically unfurls a “Mission Accomplished” banner, says ten percent unemployment is okay by him, and if congress wants to do anything fiscally it should look at cutting Social Security benefits.
That’s not nothing. That’s not the worst record of any 21st Century public official (I dunno…Robert Mugabe?) or even of any major 21st Century central banker (Jean-Claude Trichet) or any Bush administration appointee (Don Rumsfeld) or anything. But it’s really not all that great. And it demonstrates a very specific class skew—extraordinary intervention into the market place just long enough to fix the situation from the point of view of asset-owners while leaving wage-earners holding the bag. But the owners and managers and editors of Time Magazine and the companies that advertise in it probably don’t care so much about that.
In a lot of respects it strikes me as the most fitting possible choice, an eloquent statement about where America is in 2009.
The article itself, I would note, is pretty good and informative and it’s a reminder of how shockingly rare it is for the popular press to actually explain to people how important the Fed chair is. Meanwhile, a new poll says that by a margin of 47-20 voters think Bernanke puts “wall street” ahead of “main street.” Bloodless wonk that I am, I wouldn’t put it that way, but I think it’s in the spirit of my asset owners versus wage earners point.