Ben Bernanke Reduced American Wealth By 14%
With Ben Bernanke's chairmanship of The Federal Reserve set to expire at the end of January, it is prudent that we examine his seven years at the helm of America's central bank in order to see what lessons can be learned going forward. When Bernanke's legacy is objectively studied, it is clear that his chairmanship has been a mediocre one, even by the Fed's own standards.
The purpose of the Federal Reserve is outlined in the bank's dual mandate; to stabilize the value of the dollar, and to curtail unemployment. Although much attention has been paid to the latter of the mandates (and it is understandable why American's are aware of our stubbornly high unemployment numbers) there has been precious little focus on the Fed's initial mandate of stabilizing the value of the dollar. When it comes to maintaining the value of the dollar, the Bernanke Fed has had about as much success as in their efforts to lower unemployment to pre-recession levels.
Using the eye-opening tool available at usinflationcalculator.com, an individual can determine how significantly their savings have dwindled during Bernanke's time in office. Every dollar that you saved in 2006 has a purchasing power roughly 14% less today. If you had $1,000 in savings in 2006, you can now purchase the equivalent of approximately $860 worth of goods and services. It is also worth noting that a dollar in 2006 could purchase 1/603th of an ounce of gold, while a dollar today can only purchase 1/1236th of an ounce. As Forbes Opinions Editor John Tamny noted in a recent column, when examining "The value of the dollar in terms of the commodity historically used to define money thanks to its stability is fairly explicit that we have an inflation problem." Although history has seen higher periods of inflation, it is clear that the value of the dollar was far from stable during Bernanke's time as Fed Chairman.
While the above may serve for some as evidence that the Bernanke Fed was a disaster, I have chosen to grade his performance on a curve, and thus have selected the "mediocre" rating. Truth be told, Bernanke is not solely to blame for the depreciating dollar, as he was given an insurmountable task to begin with! Maintaining the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar is simply not an attainable task under our current fiduciary system.
Bernanke's job as Fed Chairman is reminiscent of a certain famous Albert Camus essay that I recall studying in a philosophy class while enrolled at Roger Williams University. In "The Myth of Sisyphus" the protagonist, Sisyphus, is constantly attempting to push a boulder up a mountain only to watch as the rock rolls back down the hill whenever he nears the top. Despite repeated failures at rolling the giant boulder up the mountain, Sisyphus does not give up nor change course, and continues attempting this daunting task until the author eventually concludes that his struggle is enough "to fill a man's heart and make him happy." Such is the state of America's central bank. In the absence of a gold-backed dollar, long-term stability is unachievable. For this reason the dollar's value has declined by over 80% since the currency's final link to gold was severed in 1971.
Lastly, Bernanke also deserves some credit for successfully maintaining inflation within the Federal Reserve's target 2% rate. Of course, whether or not the Fed's 2% target is beneficial to our economy is a whole other topic for discussion, and one that is worthy of its own column. Since there is ample evidence that Bernanke struggled to meet the Fed's dual mandate, it is time that we re-examine how to better achieve the goals advocated by the Federal Reserve.
Jon Decker is the Executive Editor of The Supply Side at http://thesupplyside.blogspot.com/