Paul Greenberg

Ben Bernanke is proving a fitting successor to Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve System. Unfortunately.

The Fed's previous chairman and guru-in-chief drove interest rates down till he could scarcely get them any lower without diving into the negative numbers. It was a very popular policy. Booms always are till they go bust.

Mr. Greenspan, who in his salad days was an ardent gold bug and admirer of Ayn Rand (but I repeat myself), worked his way up to become America's fiscal genius du jour. Till his panaceas proved as reliable as panaceas usually do.

Ah, but there was a time earlier in this shiny new, fraudulent century when every word Alan Greenspan spoke was studied and weighed and analyzed -- much like fool's gold before the prospector realizes he's got only iron pyrites.

Still, for a while there, Mr. Greenspan's name was spoken with awed reverence every time he delivered himself of cryptic comments worthy of Chauncey Gardiner -- the character played by the still missed Peter Sellers in "Being There."

You may remember that late-'70s movie. The basic plot: A simple-minded gardener, thrown out of a job after his wealthy employer dies, is hailed as the financial genius of the age when his vacant comments are taken for Zen-like wisdom.

The film is supposed to be a comedy but there is something infinitely sad -- and all too relevant -- about it. And about the world's eternal eagerness to believe in simple solutions to complex problems.

Peter Sellers' performance needs to be seen again by anyone tempted to attribute omniscience to the latest inscrutable financial genius to appear on the American scene, whether it's a Bernard Baruch pontificating on a park bench in the '30s or a Warren Buffett, the folksy Omaha Flash, holding forth in these uncertain times.

These days the problem is how to help the economy recover from the last set of solutions. Remember them? They were doozies. Like having Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back up tons of worthless mortgages. Which meant they'd be insured by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government! Well, sort of. But they could always be bundled together in large enough volumes to eliminate any risk to the buyer. What could possibly go wrong?

We all found out soon enough. For now it's the fixes that need fixing. And the simplest fix is as at least as old as the Weimar Republic, which didn't last long, either. Just start up the printing presses! If money's short, paper isn't. Just turn it into currency, or bonds, or whatever form the magic ever-expandable money supply takes nowadays. M1, M2, M3 or M-anything.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.