Marketplace Scratch Pad

Fancy Pants Ben

Scott Jagow Dec 16, 2009

A fact I learned about Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke this morning: In school, he played saxophone in a four-man band called Fancy Pants. The band members all wore plaid trousers. How do I know this? Because Bernanke is Time’s Person of the Year, of course.

Who else would it be? Adam Lambert, the Twitter guys?

Bernie Madoff? Tiger Woods? Sarah Palin? Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein???

They did all make this list of “People who Mattered in 2009,” alongside Jon and Kate. Oh, and the president.

But Time went with Bernanke and explained it this way:

One scholar has written that the Great Depression of the 1930s could have been averted if the Federal Reserve at the time hadn’t constricted the money supply, let a third of American banks go under and told Americans to tighten their belts. That scholar, Ben Bernanke, just happened to be chairman of the Federal Reserve when the economy this year appeared to be headed for a repeat performance.

We’ve rarely had such a perfect revision of the cliché that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Bernanke didn’t just learn from history; he wrote it himself and was damned if he was going to repeat it.

Time calls Bernanke our “mild-mannered economic overlord,” a pretty apt description actually. Bernanke may be a little too obsessed with the Great Depression and overly-confident in the Fed’s ability to switch monetary gears at will, but he does communicate a lot better with the public than his predecessors. And while he didn’t see the bust coming, he did react fairly swiftly and may indeed have saved the economy from worse destruction. I suppose that merits Person of the Year status.

But as Bernanke knows, history will be the judge. George W. Bush was named Person of Year.

Twice.

I don’t know if there’s a Time curse, like with the Madden NFL video game, but the Wall Street Journal lists a few people of the year whose fortunes changed not long after winning the award.

Oh, and one more fact I learned in the extended interview with Bernanke: He just refinanced his home and locked in a 30-year fixed rate of just over 5%, in case that tells you anything about where interest rates are headed…

Read more and see more from Time here.

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