Who Is Ben Bernanke? Why Is He Important?

Ben Bernanke was the chair of the board of governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014. Bernanke took over the helm from Alan Greenspan on Feb. 1, 2006, ending Greenspan's 18-year leadership at the Fed.

A former Fed governor, Bernanke was chair of the U.S. President's Council of Economic Advisors prior to being nominated as Greenspan's successor in late 2005.

Key Takeaways

  • Ben Bernanke is a former Federal Reserve chair, serving from 2006 to 2014.
  • As Fed chair, Bernanke oversaw the central bank's response to the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession.
  • Bernanke succeeded Alan Greenspan and was replaced by Janet Yellen.
  • Bernake introduced several strategies, including quantitative easing, to boost the U.S. economy during the 2008 recession.
  • Critics argue that Bernake flooded the economy with too much money, contributing to inflation and increased debt.
Ben Bernanke

Investopedia / Alison Czinkota

Early Life and Education

Born Benjamin Shalom Bernanke on Dec. 13, 1953, he is the son of a pharmacist and a schoolteacher and was raised in South Carolina. A high-achieving student, Bernanke completed his undergraduate degree summa cum laude at Harvard University and then completed his Ph.D. at MIT in 1979.

He taught economics at Stanford and then at Princeton University, where he chaired the department until 2002 when he left his academic work for public service. He officially left his post at Princeton in 2005.

Notable Accomplishments

Bernanke was first nominated as chair of the Fed by President George W. Bush in 2005. He had been appointed to President Bush's Council of Economic Advisors earlier the same year, which was widely seen as a test run for succeeding Greenspan as chair.

In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated him for a second term as chair. He was succeeded by Janet Yellen as chair in 2014. Before serving his two terms as chair of the Federal Reserve, Bernanke was a member of the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors from 2002 to 2005.

Economic Contributions

Ben Bernanke was instrumental in stimulating the U.S. economy after the 2008 banking crisis that sent the economy into a downward spiral. He took an aggressive and experimental approach to restore confidence in the financial system.

One of the multiple strategies that the Fed applied to curb the global crisis was enacting a low-rate policy to stabilize the economy. Under the tutelage of Bernanke, the Fed slashed the benchmark interest rates near to zero. By reducing the federal funds rate, banks lend each other money at a lower cost, and in turn, can offer low-interest rates on loans to consumers and businesses.

$16.2 trillion

The total net worth American households lost between 2007 and 2009 of the Great Recession.

As conditions worsened, Bernanke proposed a quantitative easing program. The quantitative easing scheme involved the unconventional purchase of Treasury bond securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) to increase the money supply in the economy. By purchasing these securities on a large scale, the Fed increased the demand for them, which led to an increase in the prices. Since bond prices and interest rates are inversely related, interest rates fell in response to the higher prices. The lower interest rates reduced the financing costs for business investments, hence improving a business’ financial position. By bolstering operations and activities, businesses were able to create more jobs, which contributed to a reduction in the unemployment rate.

Bernake's Bail Outs

Ben Bernanke also helped to curb the effects of the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions by bailing out several troubled big financial institutions. While the Fed underwrote the decision to let Lehman Brothers fail, they bailed out companies, such as AIG Insurance, due to the higher risk that the bailed-out companies posed if they went bankrupt.

In the case of AIG, Bernanke believed that the company’s huge liability was solely isolated in its financial products which involved hundreds of billions of dollars in derivatives speculation. If the company lost out on its speculative position on these derivatives, it would not have sufficient funds to pay out or cover its losses. For companies like Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns, the Federal Reserve incentivized Bank of America and JPMorgan to purchase and take over both companies by guaranteeing the bad loans of the troubled banks.

Published Works

In 2013, Bernake released The Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis, a compilation of his lectures about the history of the Federal Reserve and the financial crisis of 2008. It features his insights on the Fed's activities, decisions, and responses to events.

Two years later, he published The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath, chronicling his experiences as the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and exposed how close the global economy came to collapsing in 2008, stating that it would have done so had the Federal Reserve and other agencies not taken extreme measures. President Barack Obama has also stated that Bernanke's actions prevented the financial crisis from becoming as bad as it could have been. However, Bernanke has also been the subject of critics who claim he didn't do enough to foresee the financial crisis.


Although Bernanke’s actions were indelible to the recovery of the global economy, he faced criticism for the approaches that he took to achieve this recovery. Economists criticized his pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy through the bond-purchase program which potentially increased individual and corporate debt, and led to inflation. In addition to these economists, legislators also criticized his extreme measures and opposed his re-appointment as Federal Reserve Chair in 2010. President Barack Obama, however, reappointed him for a second term.

As of August 2022, Ben Bernanke is currently serving as an economist at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public organization based in Washington, DC, where he provides advice on fiscal and monetary policies. He also serves as a senior advisor to Citadel.

What Boards Did Ben Bernake Serve on?

After stepping down as the chair of the board of governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Ben Bernake served as a member of the Montgomery Township Board of Education in New Jersey for two years and is now an economist for the Brookings Institution and advisor for financial services firm Citadel.

What Did Ben Bernake Do During the Financial Crisis?

To counter the effects of the financial crisis of 2008, Bernake employed a low-rate policy—whereby rates were reduced to practically nothing—and a quantitative easing plan to increase the money supply. Bernake also bailed out many large, failing financial institutions.

To What Economic School of Thought Does Ben Bernake Belong?

Ben Bernake belongs to the Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz school of thought. Bernake subscribed to the principle that the Federal Reserve Board could reduce inflation and revitalize the economy by increasing the money supply at the same rate as the gross national product (GNP).

The Bottom Line

Ben Bernake, the former two-term chair of the Federal Reserve, is largely regarded for implementing strategies that saved the U.S. economy. His methods, albeit somewhat controversial, led to an increase in U.S. jobs, the bailout of well-known, established financial institutions, and a robust economy. His actions were not exempt from scrutiny, however, as there were a host of critics who believed his actions were more detrimental than good. Despite varying opinions, Bernake remains in high demand as an economist and advisor and is esteemed as one of the most influential Fed chairs in history.

Article Sources
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  1. Federal Reserve History. "Ben S. Bernanke."

  2. David Wessel. "In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic," Pages 67, 69. Three Rivers Press, 2010.

  3. The Brookings Institution. "Ben S. Bernanke."

  4. Princeton University. "Faculty Comment on Bush’s Choice of Bernanke for Fed Chair."

  5. U.S. Congress. "PN1025 — Ben S. Bernanke — Federal Reserve System."

  6. Princeton University. "Bush Chooses Bernanke to Head Economic Council."

  7. The White House: The Obama Administration. "The Nomination of Ben Bernanke."

  8. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Regulatory Reform: Agency Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS) Purchase Program."

  9. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Household Financial Stability: Who Suffered the Most from the Crisis?"

  10. The New York Times. "Revisiting the Lehman Brothers Bailout That Never Was."

  11. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Regulatory Reform: American International Group (AIG), Maiden Lane II and III."

  12. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Regulatory Reform: Bear Stearns, JPMorgan Chase, and Maiden Lane LLC."

  13. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Acquisition of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America."

  14. Princeton University Press. "The Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis."

  15. Wiley Online Library. "Ben Bernanke's The Courage to Act: A Review Essay."

  16. PBS NewsHour. "Tough Criticism for Bernanke."

  17. Citadel. "Dr. Ben S. Bernanke."

  18. The Federal Reserve Board. "Remarks by Governor Ben S. Bernanke At the Conference to Honor Milton Friedman, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, November 8, 2002: On Milton Friedman's Ninetieth Birthday."

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