Ben Bernanke makes the case for strong government

The Federal Reserve Chairman tells the Senate that an economy recovery is possible in 2010. But it definitely won't happen all by itself.

By Andrew Leonard

Published February 24, 2009 4:08PM (EST)

The headline for the Wall Street Journal News Alert Tuesday morning reads "Bernanke Says Recession Should End This Year."

But the text of the message, summarizing the news from the Federal Reserve Chairman's testimony before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee Tuesday morning adds a big "if":

"2010 'will be a year of recovery,' if actions taken by the government lead to some stabilization in financial markets."

And the actual text of his prepared remarks reveals further qualification: (Italics mine.)

If actions taken by the Administration, the Congress, and the Federal Reserve are successful in restoring some measure of financial stability -- and only if that is the case, in my view -- there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery.

That's not just a big "if." That's a giant, honking, humongous, get-down-on-your-knees-and-pray-for-salvation "if." Ben Bernanke predicts that we can hope for an economic recovery next year, only if government action is effective -- and that includes, in his view, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's plan to bring stability to the banking system, the details of which are still unknown.

In the full context of his remarks, Bernanke doesn't sound all that optimistic. (Italics mine.)

This outlook for economic activity is subject to considerable uncertainty, and I believe that, overall, the downside risks probably outweigh those on the upside. One risk arises from the global nature of the slowdown, which could adversely affect U.S. exports and financial conditions to an even greater degree than currently expected. Another risk derives from the destructive power of the so-called adverse feedback loop, in which weakening economic and financial conditions become mutually reinforcing. To break the adverse feedback loop, it is essential that we continue to complement fiscal stimulus with strong government action to stabilize financial institutions and financial markets.

So let's retitle that WSJ News Alert: "Bernanke Warns That Without Aggressive FDR-Style Strong Government Action to Boost the Economy, We're Doomed."

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Ben Bernanke Globalization How The World Works U.s. Economy U.s. Senate