With the central bank under attack from both sides of the aisle, it's no surprise Ben Bernanke's selection as Time Magazine's Person of the Year has been greeted with more scorn than praise. Even the Fed Chairman's admirers felt compelled to qualify their support in some way or another.
The most unequivocal endorsement came from New York Magazine, which noted, “Time likes to be provocative ... But this year, in what is either a testament to the battered state of the media or the battered state of the country or both, the magazine finally gave up on counterintuitiveness and just went ahead and picked the obvious person. Because love him or hate him, it can't be denied that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke really is the person of the year.”
The rest off the endorsements ranged from lukewarm to tepid.
"Ben Bernanke may not be a snazzy choice," said Joel Achenback in The Washington Post, "but he's a smart one ... the case has been made that Bernanke saved the economy from a much worse fate, that he was the right guy at the right moment, what with having spent much of his career studying the causes of the Great Depression."
"I'm convinced that Ben Bernanke was a deserving choice for Time's Person of the Year," Derek Thompson said in The Atlantic, "if for no other reason than that the runner-ups -- Stanley McChrystal, The Chinese Worker, Nancy Pelosi, Usain Bolt (??) -- strike me as second stringers compared to the man who embodies our response to the economic crisis."
In the New Republic, Noam Schreiber wrote, “It seems like there was a more persuasive case for giving him the honor last year. Yes, Bernanke has presided over some pretty unprecedented expansions of liquidity and credit this year (through his quantative easing program, and the Fed's various credit facilities). But the truly remarkable stuff--the Bear and AIG interventions, the marriage of Merrill to Bank of America, dropping interest rates to zero--all happened last year. And Bernanke was arguably a lot better at averting an absolute financial collapse than he has been at reviving growth.”
The Christian Science Monitor said even Bernanke’s "most ardent supporters will concede that his job is only half over. How he manages the recovery will be as important to his legacy as his moves during the crisis. He must wind down the monetary stimulus without throwing the economy in reverse, keep inflation from heating up and the dollar from collapsing.”
Bernanke's detractors didn't pull any punches.
"As we say farewell to a dreadful year and decade, this much we can agree upon," Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times, "The person of the year is not Ben Bernanke... The Fed chairman was just as big a schnook as every other magical thinker in Washington and on Wall Street who believed that housing prices would go up in perpetuity to support an economy leveraged past the hilt. Unlike most of the others, it was Bernanke’s job to be ahead of the curve.”
"Time Magazine's naming Ben Bernanke 'Man of the Year' is a little bit like celebrating an arsonist for his heroics in putting out a fire that he set," Robert Borosage said in the online magazine Truthout. "Bernanke has done creative and bold work in staving off a financial free fall. But he would also be on any list of the 10 people most responsible for creating the free fall."
In the Austrian Economists blog, Steven Horwitz wrote, “What else is there to say but the obvious snark: the award goes to the person who has made a mark for better or for worse ... Among the names there are many of the really nasty folks of the 20th century. Bernanke didn't kill anyone, but in terms of the damage he may have inflicted on the US economy over time, he might well have made many of us notably poorer than we would have been.”
Then there were commentators who quipped that the the award was more often a curse than an honor. In “Deal Journal,” the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Corkery said, “History has not always been kind to previous winners of the Time award. With unemployment at 10% and business lending dormant, Bernanke knows that the final chapters of the financial crisis are still being written."
And in his blog, “The Conscience of a Liberal,” the New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote, “The magazine cover curse is a well-known phenomenon: you should always short the stock of a company whose CEO is the subject of a glowing cover story in a major magazine. Plus there’s the specific Time effect.” The post concluded with a photo of a February 1999 Time cover featuring Greenspan, Rubin and Summers captioned, “The inside story of how the Three Marketeers have prevented a global economic meltdown – so far.”