Ben Bernanke looks wistfully through the cigarette smoke and surveys the small highway diner he finds himself in. I ask him if he’s missed anything since his retirement as Chairman of the Federal Reserve earlier this year. He takes a sip of his double bourbon and then fixes me in the eye. “Casual sex with groupies,” he replies. “Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t do it all the time … not like Alan Greenspan. I remember he once trashed a whole suite at the Hilton during a G20 conference with two Econometrics PhD candidates from MIT.”
It’s hard not to pity Ben Bernanke; undoubtedly the matinee idol looks of his early days as Fed. Chairman have faded now. And even among his fans the indie credibility of his youthful work, up to and including the Bernanke doctrine, has given way to a feeling that his more recent output, notably quantitative easing, may be the greatest sell-out in economic history.
Since leaving the Fed., Bernanke has been largely quiet. Occasionally he’s hit the road and played small rooms of Chicago School economists, but he says he has no plans for a comeback. He takes another drag on his cigarette as I ask him whether he feels the industry has changed since he started out. “I don’t know,” he mumbles, “some of these new kids on the Fed., I just feel like they’ve lost the soul. What’s happened? You know man, it used to be about the macroeconomics.”