Former Federal Reserve chair Bernanke (The Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis, 2013) offers a view from the trenches of the Great Recession and its aftermath.
A framing figure in this lucid memoir, appearing early and late, is Alan Greenspan, Bernanke’s predecessor, who, it seems, saw trouble coming and did not act decisively. Bernanke cites Greenspan’s reluctance to subject whole categories of financial practices relating to mortgages to federal oversight, which opened the door to loopholes that contributed to the housing market collapse. “The hole in our logic,” writes Bernanke, “was that, as lending standards deteriorated, the exception became the rule.” Bernanke’s account of the Great Recession involves plenty of mea culpa pleading; he writes that in his time as a Fed governor leading up to his chairmanship, he and his fellow executives tended to underestimate the risks inherent in a loosely regulated market. He goes on to trace this fast-and-loose approach to legislative politics. For example, although Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac came close to catastrophic failure, congressional overseers were too enamored of the “ultimate free lunch” these agencies offered to pay much attention until it was almost too late. Bernanke, who has made news outside of but coincidental with this book by renouncing his former affiliation with the GOP, suggests that political gridlock has served as a tremendous brake on an economic recovery that should have been complete by now. The ongoing threat of government shutdown is an understandable deterrent to investment and consumer confidence. It helps to have wonky leanings to follow Bernanke’s arguments, which, though mostly nontechnical, can be a little daunting: “Futures markets gave us a reliable read of where markets thought the federal funds rate was going—but not for our securities purchases.”
A sober but not dismal account of what’s been happening to our pocketbooks. Readers who wonder why raising the interest rate is a big deal (and why not raising it may be a mistake) will find suggestive answers here.