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Wednesday, 21 May 2014 07:08

Bernanke, Former Fed Chair, Makes Out Like a Bandit in Speaking Fees to Banks

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abennyBen Bernanke (Photo: Medill DC)

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Even The New York Times is finally taking note of the gluttonous excesses of the plutocracy. On May 20, in the Times' Dealbook section, journalist Alexandra Stevenson penned an article entitled, "After Fed, Bernanke Offers His Wisdom, for a Big Fee"

During his eight years as steward [at the Federal Reserve] of the world’s largest economy, Mr. Bernanke’s salary was about $200,000 a year. Now he makes that in just a few hours speaking to bankers, hedge fund billionaires and leaders of industry. This year alone, he is poised to make millions of dollars from speaking engagements.

Mr. Bernanke is following a well-trodden path that his predecessor, Alan S. Greenspan, and other Washington policy makers have taken. On the speaking circuit, he is putting just one foot through the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street, being paid by financial firms but not employed by one.

Investors are dealing with an economy that is in large part the creature of Fed policies under Mr. Bernanke, and they are willing to pay top dollar for his words of wisdom as a result.

Whether Bernanke is being paid for his "wisdom" is open to question. His multi-million dollar speech marathon has the distinct scent of a combination of buying access and running a victory lap to the applause of the economic masters of the universe. Remember, Bernanke may no longer be chair of the Fed, but you can bet he regularly consults and meets with the Fed insiders, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other regulators.

In fact, The New York Times concludes its report on the millions of dollars being amassed by Bernanke:

You can spend $250,000 for Bernanke’s time at a private dinner, or you could just sit down and read what people like Janet Yellen and Mark Carney have to say,” Mr. Rosenberg [strategist at an investment firm] said, referring to the governor of the Bank of England. “You can actually do that for free and pretty much draw the same conclusions.”

If that is the case, Bernanke's fees - which can run as high as $400,000 a speech - are actually a way for financial firms to literally hedge their bets that Bernanke is going to be of value in influencing financial policy to favor the 1%.

The New York Times reports a comment from an introduction of Bernanke that would be a laugh line if it were not so representative of the revolving door of those in the economic bubble of the privileged:

Chairman Bernanke decided after he left office, like most good civil servants, that he wanted to make a little bit of money and did the dinner circuit,” Michael E. Novogratz, a principal of Fortress Investment Group, told an audience of wealth managers at a conference in Las Vegas last week. 

This is indeed a members-only club that is responsible for managing and risking trillions of dollars in our economy. That the particular venue for Bernanke's speech cited above was Las Vegas is an apt metaphor for the gambling casino for which he was the chief croupier when heading the Fed.

Recall that there is line of clothing that is branded "Members Only." It was a very hot fashion item in the '90s. Despite its unimaginative style, it was set apart by a thin black strip of cloth stitched to its apparel that announced (in white lettering), "Members Only." It is the ultimate in branding aspiration over substance: The clothes symbolize the "value" of becoming a member of an exclusive club through forking over the cost of an otherwise-unremarkable jacket or shirt.

In the case of Ben Bernanke, however, the impact of being in the members-only club is not harmless; it is ruinous to our economic wellbeing as a nation. The incestuous relationships between regulators and regulated are so blurred on Wall Street, government chieftains just gild their resumes to cash in after they leave public service. Their Washington careers are just a pathway to padding their pockets when they return to the private sector.

Maybe Bernanke and the financiers of the Fed, SEC and Wall Street should all wear a line of clothing that they can exclusively manufacture: "Money Manipulators Only."

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