Ben Bernanke Gives Himself A Grade: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast by Freakonomics

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “Ben Bernanke Gives Himself a Grade” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above.)

An interview with the former Fed chairman: He was handed the keys to the global economy just as it started heading off a cliff. Fortunately, he’d seen this movie before.

Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post. And you’ll find credits for the music in the episode noted within the transcript.

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[MUSIC: Kero One, “Bossa Soundcheck” (from Early Believers)]

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ROGER FERGUSON: Raise your right hand,  and repeat after me. I, Ben S. Bernanke …

BEN BERNANKE: I, Ben S. Bernanke …

FERGUSON: Do solemnly swear…

BERNANKE: Do solemnly swear …

On Feb. 1, 2006, the economist Ben Bernanke became the 14th Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, a job better known as Fed Chairman. Until just four years earlier, he’d been a longtime creature of academia, primarily at Princeton. But in 2002, he took a job as one of seven Fed Governors, under Chairman Alan Greenspan. He later spent several months as the head of the Council of Economic Advisers in George Bush’s White House. It was President Bush who first named Bernanke the Fed Chairman.

[MUSIC: Kero One, “Princess Diamond”]

BERNANKE: So, I didn’t come from Texas. I wasn’t part of President Bush’s original team; I wasn’t involved in his elections.  He basically, you know, got interested in me based on my professional qualifications, my academic reputation and the like.  

STEPHEN DUBNER: You write that your wife cried when you were offered the Fed Chairmanship. But these were not tears of joy — at least purely not. Why? What did she foresee?

BERNANKE: Well, she understood that it was going to be a tough job and that the public scrutiny was going to be tough. But, I was really interested in the economic part of the job and the policy part of the job. And the personal stresses that came along with it were — you know, it turned out to be much worse than I expected, frankly.  So, that was what she was concerned about.

DUBNER: So, she was right in some large sense, do you —

BERNANKE: Oh yes.

DUBNER: Do you regret having taken the job?

BERNANKE: Well, at some level. I mean, obviously I got a lot more than I anticipated, you know. But, it was an important time and I feel like I made a contribution. And so I’m happy about that. 

Today on Freakonomics Radio, a conversation about the life story that Bernanke tells in his recent book, The Courage to Act. He explains what FDR got right and wrong during the Great Depression and he assesses another political giant from that era. Also: why an economist in the employ of the Federal Government isn’t always as candid as the facts might demand.

See full transcript here.

Ben Bernanke The Courage To Act

The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath by Ben Bernanke