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Federal Reserve Chairman: Bernanke seems highly qualified

Published October 25, 2005 12:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After the fall of FEMA's hapless "Brownie" and the rise of presidential buddy Harriet Miers, wags were ready with their prediction of who President Bush would name to replace the retiring Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

The president's horse, perhaps, or maybe the mortgage loan officer from Crawford State Bank.

Seems we misunderestimated him again.

Ben S. Bernanke learned economics at Harvard, earned a Ph.D. in it at MIT, taught it at Princeton, ran it as a member of the Fed Board for three years and, since June, explained it to the president himself as head of the White House Council of Economic Advisors.

Bernanke's few months on the White House staff might have been enough to win him a presidential nickname, but hardly qualifies him as the kind of crony the administration is under fire for elevating to high office.

As is his prerogative, Bush has chosen a fellow Republican and someone who meets whatever ideological and policy standards the president sees as important. But he has also selected a learned professional who wins praise from economists up and down the ideological spectrum and tentative approval even from Democrats in the Senate.

It is now the prerogative of the Senate to carefully examine Bernanke's resume and views before putting him in a position that has at least as much influence over global and personal economies as does the president himself.

If the nominee is as qualified as he first appears, Senate hearings could avoid the Spanish Inquisition stage and serve as a globally observed master class, in which Bernanke and senators review some of the problems facing personal, national and global economies.

Those problems range from the negative savings rate of most American households, the sinking of whatever nest eggs they have into homes whose prices may be dangerously and unsustainably inflated, the ongoing budget and trade deficits and our increasing reliance on China for goods and low-interest credit.

If confirmed, Bernanke's only real tool would be the same as Greenspan's, the ability to raise or lower interest rates to push the economy in a desired direction, especially to curb inflation.

But, also like Greenspan, Bernanke would have a bully pulpit from which to address policy makers and bankers around the world. We're eager to hear how he would use it.