This is The Atlantic’s April cover story:
The left hates him. The right hates him even more. But Ben Bernanke saved the economy—and has navigated masterfully through the most trying of times.
The U.S. Federal Reserve was founded 99 years ago, as a bulwark to the banking system and an antidote to its frequent runs and panics. Strictly speaking, it was America’s third attempt at a central bank. The first, organized by Congress in 1791, was allowed to expire after 20 years, leaving the young republic with only a patchwork system of weaker state banks. During the War of 1812, Congress realized its error (in the absence of a central bank, inflation had run rampant), and in 1816, it chartered a second bank, again for 20 years. The Second Bank of the United States was, in the main, a success. Its notes were circulated as currency, and it astutely managed their supply so as to keep the economy humming. Alas, President Andrew Jackson, a fierce opponent of both paper money and national banks, campaigned in 1832 against renewal of the charter, and indirectly against the bank’s brilliant but impetuous head, Nicholas Biddle. Resentment against financiers was running high, and the election became a referendum on the genteel Philadelphia banker versus the rough-hewn war hero—and a referendum on the bank itself. Jackson won, and the Second Bank was, per his promise, destroyed. The U.S. economy promptly plunged into a severe depression. Biddle died not long after, in semi-disgrace, but the battle between bankers and populists never went away.
Keep reading, it’s a monster of a piece…