Lenine or Benedict?

The picture is from the cover of Business Week of the 31st of March 2008 “Reluctant Revolutionary” issue. Since then the spotlight has not moved away from the Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, as the economy swings between statements of paranoid alarm and insincere reassurance.

There are plenty of histories of the Federal Reserve System, with plenty of experts battling for the right to speak for it. But I would like to know if there is anything about the Fed in the public imagination.

It seems to me that since Volcker, if not since McChesney Martin, the Fed Chair has been awarded a papal status. He is subject to strident abuse (enter Jim Cramer) and praise, but overwhelmingly the Chairman is trusted without question, dare I say it: respected. In troubled times, criticism is notably mute. The economy is like a nervous and unreliable creature, and the most important public virtues are detached calm and bullishness. The Fed Chairman embodies virtue.

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4 thoughts on “Lenine or Benedict?

  1. Close to target this, thanks! Not really about popular imagination, book review of Greenspan’s book could come closer, but it is part of the blend.

    It is also nice that it uses the Alceste software which I am playing with now.

  2. I don’t have any specific reference to indicate, but just a feeling I have: that the construction of the image of the Fed chairman you pointed out is probably closely related to the movement towards independence of the central bank. It was probably present since the creation of the Fed, but it became stronger and stronger after WWII, mainly after the so-called “Treasury-Federal Reserve Accord” of 1951, which made monetary policy independent of the fiscal policy.

  3. I share the intuition. A lot of things changed across the history of the Fed, including its role in the American economy, and the American economy and society themselves, but independence is an important cultural asset. Trust in numbers matter for American social science, but I think “performances of independence” from private interests, towards the illusive public purpose are factor in too.

    I think I have written a piece about this subject, looking at Business Week and Leonard Silk, hoping eventually some journal will agree with my belief…

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