Calling TARP one of the most successful pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress, former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke offered a number of far-reaching observations about both the recent financial crises and those of yesteryear.
In an interview with Gerry Tamburro of Pershing at the custodian/clearing firm's annual INSITE conference in Orlando, Fla., Bernanke indicated that, as a student of the Great Depression, he thought President Franklin Roosevelt's efforts with the New Deal represented a better response to that crisis 80 years ago than the one of Herbert Hoover's Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who Bernanke said leaned toward the view that the system should cleanse itself.
Regarding TARP, Bernanke conceded that its architects -- he, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Paulson’s successor Tim Geithner -- were by no means confident that it would work in September 2008. But the results speak for themselves. The government not only got its money back but actually made money on the loans.
He gave FDR credit for essentially addressing the problem in the 1930s when no one had an obvious solution or cure for the Depression. FDR said "we don't know how to fix it, but we will try until we do," Bernanke observed. Some believe that the Japanese decision to bomb Pearl Harbor ended the Great Depression, but Bernanke suggests that FDR’s economic action, even if limited in its success, was a far superior response to inaction.
Bernanke recently returned from a trip to Asia, and he said most of the business leaders and central banking types he met there were marveling at the strength of the U.S. economy. Few in America are. "I wish the recovery had been better, but many said the [TARP] policy would fail, it would create inflation and the dollar would collapse," he noted. They were dead wrong.
As Tamburro pointed out, since Congress passed TARP in September 2008, the U.S. jobs market has displayed a turnaround of almost 1 million jobs a month -- moving from a loss of 800,000 to a gain of 200,000 jobs a month -- while the stock market has tripled.
Tamburro asked Bernanke about the complaints of many in the financial services industry that the regulatory pendulum had swung too far and that the Dodd-Frank legislation had, in the words of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, made it impossible to do business or make a profit. "Jamie Dimon can't make a profit?" Bernanke asked, drawing laughs from the audience.
"I like Jamie, and he is a very smart guy. But the system is stronger than it was," Bernanke said. He quickly added that this doesn't mean every one of the hundreds of rules being implemented "meets a cost-benefit test."
In other words, there is a trade-off between how safe one wants the guardrail to be and how fast the train can go.
Though Bernanke didn't go into detail, this observer was also a little surprised about his characterization of Herbert Hoover. Popular mythology has it that Hoover took a totally laisse-faire position after the stock market crashed in 1929.