Sunday, March 8, 2009

Next exit: The Bernanke interchange

The exit ramp that Ben Bernanke was looking for Saturday had only a little to do with getting the U.S. economy back on the road to recovery.

The Federal Reserve chairman attended a ceremony naming the Interstate-95 interchange that leads travelers into his hometown of Dillon, S.C.

"I must confess that, until recently, I did not realize that highway interchanges were named after people," Bernanke said in remarks prepared for delivery and released by the Federal Reserve. "But, as I thought about it, I realized that it is indeed a high honor for someone whose job is focused on supporting the economy."

"Efficient transportation is crucial to economic development," he added.

The Fed chairman's comments were primarily a review of his years in Dillon, working at odd jobs such as construction and waiting tables at the South of the Border attraction that's the town's main claim to fame.

Bernanke's words are usually scrutinized for indications of his thinking on the economy. But the only relevant remark came after he mentioned another young person from Dillon, Ty'Sheoma Bethea, whose "We are not quitters" letter to President Obama - concerning the poor physical condition of her school - earned her a mention in his speech to Congress last month.

"Well, neither are the American people, despite the economic challenges we now confront," said Bernanke, echoing the girl's comment. "For our part, at the Federal Reserve, we will continue to forcefully deploy all the tools at our disposal as long as necessary to support the restoration of financial stability and the resumption of healthy economic growth."

Bernanke goes back to work in the coming week, speaking Tuesday in Washington on reforms to address financial system risk. The week after, he'll chair the Fed's policy-making body, which has kept interest rates near 0% in an effort to restart liquidity in the financial markets.

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