Sunday, 28 March 2010

Surmising Bernanke’s Personality

I was a taken aback when I read in the Wall Street Journal that the Federal Reserve Board had a “director of fine arts program”. It was like learning that the Islamic Republic of Iran had a chief sommelier. You don't quite know what to make of it.

Apparently, both the office and the title are real. A certain Ms. Goley who was in charge of the program for over 30 years had written to the Journal to offer a window into Bernanke’s character from his taste in art. She concluded that the chairman is “creative, innovative and flexible”.

Ms. Goley thinks that these are unconditionally positive adjectives.

But if I have said it once, I have said it a hundred times that nothing exists out of context. Think of corporations using “creative accounting” or politicians who are “ethically flexible”. As for “innovative”, it might be an admirable trait for an architect or a teacher, but what does it mean when applied to a central banker?

When applied in the context of what transpired in the past three years and Bernanke’s role in the events, Ms. Goley’s adjectives describe a man who plays ball, someone who can be counted upon to find ways to accommodate those who must be accommodated.

Now, I don’t know Bernanke personally. But I figured out all these personality traits on my own. See, for example, here, here and, most recently, here.

These people are functionaries. They are not particularly complex characters. You can read them like an open book from the evidence of a single newspaper article.