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Ben Bernanke Collection Shows Fed Chairman's Train of Thought

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Bernanke’s series of lectures to university students, now available as a book, acts as a primer on the Federal Reserve and 2008 financial crisis.

It looks increasingly likely that we won’t have Ben S. Bernanke to kick around much longer.

Bernanke’s second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve ends in January, and he’s been mum about his plans.

Still, in his most recent public comments on the matter, he emphasized that he was not irreplaceable, and most Fed-watchers don’t expect him to ask President Barack Obama for a third term. Predicting who’ll next lead the central bank has already become a favorite parlor game throughout Washington and on Wall Street.

If he does leave the Fed, many — including this reporter — will surely hope that Bernanke pens a memoir detailing his sleepless nights to keep the financial system from unraveling in the fall of 2008.

But if he chooses not to, his book “The Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis,” recently published by Princeton University Press, would be a fitting substitute.

Available in hardcover for $19.95, it’s free to read — and watch — on the Fed’s website: federalreserve.gov/newsevents/lectures/about.htm.

That’s because the book is a collection of four videotaped lectures on the Fed that Bernanke gave to George Washington University students in March 2012.

For experts in monetary policy or financial regulation, the lectures will provide few new insights. But for those interested in why we have central banks, what led to the 2008 financial crisis and how the nation’s top officials reacted, there isn’t a better primer.

The former Princeton professor devotes one lecture each to the “Origins and Mission of the Federal Reserve,” “The Federal Reserve After World War II,” “The Federal Reserve’s Response to the Financial Crisis” and “The Aftermath of the Crisis.”

This is no boring textbook, despite the occasional chart. Bernanke presents a clear and engaging narrative of the economic history of the United States, while also tackling a few of the perennial anti-Fed bugaboos.

For example, Bernanke ably considers and refutes the idea that the United States should return to the gold standard. While it may be theoretically comforting to tie the dollar to something more tangible than government fiat, Bernanke details gold’s impracticality and the range of negative consequences that would ensue, including an increasingly volatile economy.

One of the book’s most important achievements is to place the Fed’s extraordinary interventions during the crisis — including the emergency lending of $1.2 trillion to the financial industry — in context.

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