Ben Bernanke, the epitome of committing mistakes, made the worst pronouncement which blew the large, internationally active monetary system apart.
It’s very easy to personalize the failures of the last decade as the sins of one man. In that way, Ben Bernanke has done himself no favors. He has remained resolute in his stance, to the point of irrationality. Despite committing some of the worst mistakes, to hear him tell it there was nothing that could have been done differently, and what was done was successful. Yet, time and again his own words defy that very notion.
Everyone remembers “subprime is contained” and for all the right reasons, too. It betrayed his ignorance as well as conceit, an overconfidence that at that moment was totally unearned as it was untested. You could argue in his favor that given his position and the lingering myths surrounding it he had no other choice but to project nothing short of full confidence even if he didn’t privately really have it himself. But in doing so it had more of the qualities of Captain Smith going down with the Titanic than J. P. Morgan stepping in to save the US from another depression in 1907.
Perhaps Bernanke’s worst pronouncement came several months later. Practically no one remembers an otherwise nondescript press release issued on July 20, 2007. The world had been moving toward Basel 2 in fits and starts, an uneven implementation made messy by the very nature of the thing under scrutiny. On that date nearly a decade ago, US authorities finally reached a general understanding about how adoption would proceed in this country.
It was, as usual, no easy challenge on any side, not the least of which due to the regulatory structure. There were no less than four primary agencies responsible with often overlapping areas of concentration. There was the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the Office of Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, as well as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The debate among the agencies is its own topic worth full dissertation, but that will have to be for some other day or for someone else more politically predisposed.