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In Dallas, Former Fed Chief Ben Bernanke Talks Of Tough Economic Times -- And His Legacy

Dallas hosted a seminar on the Federal Reserve and monetary policy. Now, those words usually don’t exactly get the blood racing, but headliner and former Fed chief Ben Bernanke teamed with his host, George W. Bush, for an unusually candid – and even entertaining – series of chats.

The George W. Bush Presidential Center doesn’t offer a major seminar like  this one without a few words from the former president.

“We’re trying to advance the notion that our economy can grow better," said former President Bush, "and one way to do so is to educate people about how all aspects of the levers work.”

Bush thanked the participants from the world of finance, and moderators Maria Bartiromo from Fox Business, and Al Hubbard, a former Bush aide.

“We’ve had two moderators," Bush added. "One cute and smart. The other was Al Hubbard.  I want to thank Maria for coming as well. And you, too, Hubbard.”

Bartiromo moderated a discussion between regional Fed presidents Richard Fisher of Dallas and John Williams from San Francisco. They agreed the Fed’s so-called dual policy is working by keeping interest rates down while improving the climate for job growth through stabile prices. Fisher then trotted out a little word play.

“You hear about the dual mandate," Fisher said. "With Congress, dual is spelled d-u-e-l. We know inflation is a monetary phenomenon; we’re obviously schooled in that fully. As far as achieving full employment again, we can only provide the fuel. That’s where the duel is. The d-u-e-l.” 

That’s Congress’ job, but they haven't acted, Fisher said. 

“They’re the gang that can’t shoot straight," he said. 

When Bush’s former Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten talked with Ben Bernanke, the former Fed chief was both blunt and funny.

He oversaw one of the toughest fiscal periods in recent history. In 2008, the housing market crashed, triggering huge bank failures including the end of the storied institution Lehman Brothers. He warned then-President Bush the nation faced another possible great depression. Now, five months after leaving as Federal Reserve chairman, he was asked what he’d like his legacy to be.

“Did the best he could under tough circumstances," Bernanke responded. "I’m writing a book, now I’m trying to begin a book process and I think more than just selling a book, I think I’m really interested in the personal therapy here. I really want to go back and think through all these decisions.”

But the nation did avoid financial collapse, he pointed out,  and the world of banking and monetary policy are more transparent. And he owned up to his own mistakes. He quipped he’s still trying to understand what they all were.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.