Bernanke to Occupy Wall Street: 'I get it'
But he also said his critics were misguided if they believed that Fed policy has been motivated by a desire to protect bankers' incomes.
At a news conference Wednesday following a two-day Fed meeting, Bernanke was asked specifically about the Occupy Wall Street protests.
The question, and his answer:
Question: Chairman, you've said in the past you understand some of the anger on display with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. And a lot of the anger is directed at the Fed, with some protesters saying that the Fed is part of the problem; that the Fed preserves the financial system and promotes income inequality.
Can -- are the protesters right? Is the Fed part of the problem? And secondarily, can the Fed do anything to promote a more equitable economy?
Bernanke: Well, as I've said before, I certainly understand that many people are dissatisfied with the state of the economy. I'm dissatisfied with the state of the economy. Unemployment is far too high. Inequality, which is not a new phenomenon, it's been going on -- increases in inequality have been going on for at least 30 years. But, obviously, that -- as that has continued we now have a more unequal society than we've had in the past.
So, again, I fully sympathize with the notion that the economy is not performing the way we would like it to be, and in that respect the concerns that people express across the spectrum are -- are understandable.
I think that the concerns about the Fed are based on misconceptions. The Federal Reserve was involved, obviously, in trying to stabilize the financial system in 2008 and 2009, a very simplistic interpretation of that was that we were doing that because we wanted to preserve, you know, banker salaries. That is obviously not the case.
What we were doing was trying to protect the financial system in order to prevent a serious collapse of both the financial system and the American economy. And we needed to take those steps. If we hadn't taken them the consequences would have been dire.
As for how to fix the problem of an “unequal society,” Bernanke said the Fed had no policy options other than trying to boost employment.
“I think the best way to address inequality is to create jobs,” he said. “It gives people opportunities. It gives people a chance to earn income, gain experience and to ultimately earn more. But that's an indirect approach that's really the only way the Fed can address inequality per se.”
He also made what appeared to be a jab at anti-stimulus Republican leaders. “I think it would be helpful if we could get assistance from some other parts of the government to work with us to help create more jobs,” Bernanke said.
-- Tom Petruno
Photo: "Occupy" protesters in Philadelphia. Credit: Matt Rourke / Associated Press