The job of Chairman of the Federal Reserve is not one many would actively pursue. You’re always in the public eye, people blame you when the economy is bad and blame you when the economy is not good enough. You’re the most powerful financial person in the world, but your power really aren’t that powerful. You must walk a fine line of economics and politics, and you’re paid about as good as a senior level analyst at a Wall Street firm who is half your age and a degree shy of your education level.

Ben Bernanke has been the chair of the Fed since 2006 when he was handpicked by Alan Greenspan and partially thanks to a close working relationship with the president at that time. There’s no denying this man is smart. But there is a great debate on whether or not he’s a good chairman. Just like a president, being judged in retrospect usually means disapproval. Could someone have done a better job than Bernanke? I don’t think so, but others do.

But today I just want to help you get to know the man behind the Fed a little better. Knowing someone a bit more on a personal level may help you understand him better. It may not, it might make you hate him. Either way, I’ll bet you didn’t know these things about this guy, even I didn’t until I wrote this.

  1. He drives a Ford Focus.  I would have guessed Volvo but these days everyone in Washington feel pressure to drive American.
  2. His salary is set by Congress, and was just under $200k last year.
  3. He made between $200k and $2 mil on textbook royalties last year. Bernanke is an academic and professor by trade.  His Fed Chair salary is a likely a raise over what he made at Princeton, but his textbook royalties far outpace what the typical professor makes on their books.
  4. Up until 2009, the Bernankes had an adjustable rate mortgage. It “exploded” so they refinanced to a fixed rate just over 5%.  I guess when you’re the person that sets interest rates you probably have a good idea when they aren’t going to get any lower.  I’m going to watch the Fed Chair closely in the future to see when I should take advantage of what.
  5. He’s a hick. Don’t let his River Charles education (Harvard & MIT) , and Stanford, NYU, Princeton career fool you. This man is from South Carolina and used to work at the glorified truck stop and amusement park South of the Border, a place that if you’ve driven I95 between NC and SC screams dirty south. Also keep in mind that calling him a hick is not derogatory, if it comes from someone who is also from the south.
  6. Dude loves some diet soda.  He’s got it stockpiled at work.
  7. He has quite a few credit cards. Amex, Jos. A Bank, United Airlines frequent flier.  He may have more but that’s all he shared.  I would have taken him for a MasterCard kind of guy.
  8. Bernanke has a brother and sister. His brother is a lawyer in North Carolina. I won’t link to him because I’m sure he gets enough of it as it is.
  9. Bernanke is responsible for Paul Krugman’s popularity (kind of). They would have studied economics together at MIT, and Bernanke was the Chair of the economics department at Princeton when Krugman was recruited there. Krugman won his “Nobel Prize” after coming to Princeton which has since launched him to the forefront of economic pundits.
  10. He really lives the separation of The Fed from the federal government. The Fed operates largely independent from the government. Despite the fact that Obama, Treasury Secretary Geithner, and Bernanke all shoot hoops, Bernanke prefers to play alone.
  11. Keeps the finances simple. He has some money with Merrill Lynch, the standard teacher’s pension (worth between 1.2 and 2.5 mil), and cash accounts.  He figures what most of us figure: ride the waves of the markets and just focus on making money doing whatever it is you do for a paycheck.

Links:
Slideshow of Bernanke’s office
Bernanke/Krugman Relationship
Bernanke Finances and here
Bernanke Interview

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