Peter Schiff Versus Ben Bernanke

Schiff ran into Bernanke at a conference recently. Here is Schiff’s recollection of their encounter.

“We got the photograph out of the way. Then I wanted to talk to him. The first thing I wanted to do was I wanted to give him my version of why the economy is so screwed up and why everything in it is wrong. The last thing he wanted to get was a lecture from me, but that’s what I tried to give him. But I tried to give him the Cliff Note version. I did want to ask him some questions, but I wanted to get his reaction to my take.

“I started talking about the housing bubble and the financial crisis and how the Federal Reserve caused that with its low interest rates. He said that no, it wasn’t that; that the interest rates had nothing to do with it. He first told me that the housing bubble was caused by Fannie and Freddie. At least he’s trying to blame the government. I said, ‘Look, Fannie and Freddie have been around since the 30s. We didn’t have that big housing bubble until the Fed happened to have interest rates at 1%, and then raised them very slowly. That wasn’t a coincidence.’ He said, ‘Well, it was subprime mortgages that did it.’ I said, ‘Subprime mortgages? But do you understand how subprime mortgages worked? They were all adjustable rates, and the most popular feature, what made them so enticing and affordable was the teaser rate. The fact that you can get a low rate of interest for the first few years. That was all because of the Fed. So if you’re going to blame subprime, you’ve got to blame the Fed, because the Fed is what gave life to subprime. It made subprime affordable.’ He also blamed regulation. He said regulation first before he said Fannie and Freddie. I said, ‘Well what regulations are you talking about?’ And he said Fannie and Freddie, which weren’t really regulations, they’re agencies. But he was really trying to lay the blame on the housing bubble on capitalism, because of subprime, and on the government, because of Fannie and Freddie.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute. If regulation and subprime and Fannie and Freddie – if that’s what caused the housing bubble, why didn’t you warn us about that in advance? Why didn’t you go in 2004, ‘Hey, we got a problem. We got these bad regulations, we got Fannie and Freddie, we got subprime , they’ve created a housing bubble! This is going to be a disaster!’’ He didn’t say any of that. He said the opposite of that. In fact, when he was asked specifically about the housing bubble, he denied that it existed. If it was being caused by the things that he said, why didn’t he warn about it? Because it wasn’t caused by those things…

“I tried to ask him some questions and that’s when he really wanted to end the conversation. The first question I said, ‘Mr. Bernanke, you’re so sure that you’re right. I don’t know how you can be so sure, because interest rates are still at zero and the Fed’s balance sheet hasn’t shrunk. You said you weren’t monetizing the debt when you talked to Congress. You said the Fed was going to sell the bonds, but none of them have been sold. They’ve all been rolled over. So how are you claiming victory when you haven’t exited? You haven’t raised rates, you haven’t shrunk the balance sheet. You were wrong in the past. You didn’t see the financial crisis coming. You told us there was no housing bubble. You aid subprime was contained. So you were certainly wrong then. So how do you know you’re not wrong now? Is there anything that might change your opinion and get you to rethink and maybe admit that your outlook is wrong?’ I forget the exact words.

“Instead of answering the questions, he just patted me on the shoulder… And just kind of gave me a little smile and that was it. He kind of turned. By then there was a couple other people around us. He started talking to somebody else. It was clear to me that he didn’t want to answer the questions. After all, I’m not paying him $200,000, so why should he answer my questions. I don’t know, maybe he didn’t want to answer them. I didn’t get the sense when I talked to him that he was lying to me. I thought he really believed what he believed. He seemed that way. i’m sure all the praise has gone to his head. He thinks he’s save the world. So he did seem sincere… Who am I? I’m just this guy trying to talk to the former Fed Chairman and tell him what a lousy job he did. He probably doesn’t want to hear that. He wants to talk to somebody who will tell him how great he is. That was the last I talked to him.

The excerpt above was from a longer article that be found here.

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