It's always fun to see who Time magazine names its "Person of the Year." 2009's pick was neither obvious nor shocking: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. I have a few thoughts about the pick.
My first observation is that Bernanke wasn't really the most important figure for just 2009. Don't get me wrong: I think he's had a huge impact in the U.S. and global economies this year. I just think he'd be more aptly described as the "Person of the Last 18 to 24 Months." Much of the most important work he did to stabilize the economy was done in 2008, not 2009. This year he had more of a stay-the-course philosophy.
Clearly, there are those who probably aren't pleased with Time's pick. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) comes to mind. He leads a charge in Congress to abolish the Fed, which is related to a portion of legislation to audit the Fed, recently passed as a part of the House's financial reform bill. Other critics would like for him to have done more to curb unemployment. From a public standpoint, Bernanke's public approval rating is only 22%, according to what I heard on CNBC this morning.
Some believe that Bernanke was partially to blame for the crisis. When he took the reins from Alan Greenspan in 2006, he could have worked for greater monetary tightening at that time, or more regulatory requirements. I'd argue, however, that the runaway train had already gained too much momentum by then anyway.
As for his performance during the crisis, I think it was incredible -- which is why I support his reappointment. And I must not be alone -- the market's approval is why President Obama likely felt almost forced to reappoint him. Bear in mind that this is a President who has very, very different views from his predecessor who appointed Bernanke. I'm also pretty sure the President would have liked to have a Fed chief who he had a little more control over -- a more trusted advisor. But Bernanke was so essential to the recovery that Obama recognized that and could not help but reappoint him, despite politics. (Final confirmation vote in the Senate tomorrow!)
I also wonder -- who else would Time have chosen? Its other finalists included President Obama (Really, two years in a row?), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (For doing what exactly?), Steve Jobs (Maybe of the decade, not sure for 2009.), Top U.S. General in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal (Maybe after we've seen more progress there.), and the Chinese worker (Maybe, but again, why in 2009?). As for his peers, I think it's silly to say that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has done more for the recovery than Bernanke. And former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson doesn't seem like a very timely pick for 2009.
I could offer a few other picks the magazine might have considered. How about "The Greedy Banker?" Or maybe "The Unemployed American?" I think "The Underwater Homeowner" might have also made sense. But Time does like to name individuals, so it might not have given such options much consideration.
Particularly since there doesn't appear to be an obviously better pick, I think choosing Bernanke makes sense. Even though he might be Time's Person of the Year for 2009, he's likely to be in the public eye for the next several years as he faces another huge challenge. He must slowly draw down money supply, without disrupting the recovery or allowing excessive inflation.