SPIEGELONLINE INTERNATIONAL: Never before have the central banks of the United States and Europe pursued such divergent strategies when it comes to dealing with a financial crisis. The increased value of the euro against the dollar reveals which strategy is working.
The world's two most powerful central bankers are two very different men, even when it comes to their outward appearance.
Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), has the bearing and style of a classic representative of Old Europe. He always wears the best suits, his gray hair is carefully parted and his voice is so unassuming that it sometimes comes across as more of a whisper. He is happy to swap the columns of numbers that are part of his job for a volume of modern French literature.
Ben Bernanke, Trichet's counterpart at America's central bank, the Federal Reserve (Fed), is an economics professor by trade and makes no secret of his dislike for suits. He once joked: "My proposal that Fed governors should signal their commitment to public service by wearing Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts has so far gone unheeded." In his private life, Bernanke is an avid baseball fan.
The personalities of the two men are as different as their strategies and their approaches to their jobs. Trichet runs the ECB thoughtfully and with circumspection. The Fed, under Bernanke's leadership, is hands-on and decisive.
But which approach is more successful during an acute global financial crisis? And is it possible that the two key central bankers are in fact fueling the seemingly unending banking disaster?
The ECB remains calm -- sometimes to the point of doing nothing. Since the turbulence in the financial markets began last summer, it has left European key interest rates unchanged. The Fed, on the other hand, seems to take action to show it is doing something, sometimes to the point of hysteria. Since August of 2007, it has brought down the key interest rate at record speed, from 5.25 percent to 2.25 percent, to avert a recession in the United States.
But now it seems that all of the Fed's efforts have been in vain. Testifying before the US Congress, Bernanke was forced to admit that he expects the US economy to grow very little, if at all, in the first half of 2008. It "could even contract slightly," he said.
If a currency's value is a measure of confidence in an economy and its central bank, then the Europeans and their ECB are clearly emerging as the winners in the current crisis. Last week the euro climbed to a new record high of $1.60. What the Fed Could Learn from Europe's Central Bank >>> By Christian Reiermann | April 29, 2008
The Dawning of a New Dark Age (Paperback - UK)
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