I am of two minds about this New York Times piece about Ben Bernanke's reluctance to openly endorse fiscal stimulus:
He believes that without the Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus program, the nation would have been worse off, and that Congress needs to continue to prop up the economy in the short run. He agrees that fiscal measures to support the recovery would probably make the Fed’s unconventional monetary policy more potent.
But Mr. Bernanke has been reluctant to prominently voice those views, which were gleaned from testimony, speeches and interviews with people close to him over the last several months. His predecessor, Alan Greenspan, did not display such hesitation, advocating for the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003.
Mr. Bernanke is uncomfortable in that role, which he believes to be outside his purview, even — or especially — in an election season dominated by economic anxiety. He has not ruled out weighing in when a bipartisan budget commission named by President Obama delivers its report in December, but it seems unlikely that he will intervene in the battle over the Bush tax cuts.
On the one hand, it's admirable that Bernanke is declining to follow in Alan Greenspan's role as national economic guru. Greenspan hoarded the absurd prestige he acquired during the 1990s, which had little to do with his own skill, and used it to push fiscal policy in directions he preferred. His 2001 advocacy of large debt-financed tax cuts, on the basis of a wildly far-fetched scenario that the national debt would be paid off too fast and there would be no choice but to enact huge tax cuts or have government buy up private industry -- was an abuse of his position. It's nice to return the Federal Reserve Chairman to his proper role.
On the other hand, it's rather aggravating that Greenspan used his position to advocate for policies he favored solely for philosophical reasons (he opposes big government) while Bernanke refrains from advocating a position that's essentially the mainstream economic consensus. There is a bizarre disconnect between economic forecasters and economists, on the one hand, who believe that fiscal stimulus was very helpful, and voters and politicians, on the other, who believe the opposite. It's nice that the Federal Reserve Chairman is letting elected officials make political decisions. But it's a shame that this policy of abstinence begins on a question where the political system could really use the prestige of a national economic guru to weigh in.