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Bernanke, the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

A musical video tribute to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke at the annual meeting of the Allied Social Science Associations in Philadelphia compared him to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—except with a shiny dome instead of a shiny nose—concluding, “You’ll go down in history.”

It was a good-natured joke. Things got interesting a few minutes later, when Bernanke seemed to inadvertently channel his inner Rudolph, who famously guided Santa’s sleigh one foggy Christmas Eve. Responding to a query as to whether he would have done anything differently to stop the housing bubble and bust, Bernanke replied, with a smile: “That’s a really unfair question.” He said Fed policymakers had to make decisions “in really foggy conditions,” a metaphor that may well have been planted in his mind by the Rudolph video.

That wasn’t all. Bernanke went on to say that he couldn’t have warded off disaster by seeing the future. All others would have had to know that he could see the future—or they wouldn’t have trusted him to take such drastic actions as sharply raising bank capital requirements.

That means that Bernanke, after eight years at the helm of the world’s most powerful central bank, still doesn’t see himself as having a whole lot of independence. Hmmm. Maybe a reindeer dragging a sleigh through the fog isn’t such a bad image.

Coy is Bloomberg Businessweek's economics editor. His Twitter handle is @petercoy.

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