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Bernanke is particularly interested in the economic and political causes of the Great Depression, on which he has written extensively. Before Bernanke's work the dominant monetarist theory of the Great Depression was Milton Friedman's view that it had been largely caused by the Federal Reserve reducing the money supply. Bernanke focused less on the role of the federal reserve, and more on the role of private banks and financial institutions[19]. Bernanke found that the financial disruptions of 1930-33 reduced the efficiency of the credit allocation process; and that the resulting higher cost and reduced availability of credit acted to depress aggregate demand, identifying an effect he called the financial accelerator. When faced with a mild downturn, banks are likely to significantly cut back lending and other risky ventures. This further hurts the economy, creating a vicious cycle and potentially turning a mild recession into a major depression.[20] Economist Brad DeLong, who had previously advocated his own theory for the Great Depression, notes that the current financial crisis has increased the pertinence of Bernanke's theory. [21]

In 2002, when the word "deflation" began appearing in the business news, Bernanke gave a speech about deflation.[22] In that speech, he mentioned that the government in a fiat money system owns the physical means of creating money. Control of the means of production for money implies that the government can always avoid deflation by simply issuing more money. (He referred to a statement made by Milton Friedman about using a "helicopter drop" of money into the economy to fight deflation.) Bernanke's critics have since referred to him as "Helicopter Ben" or to his "helicopter printing press." In a footnote to his speech, Bernanke noted that "people know that inflation erodes the real value of the government's debt and, therefore, that it is in the interest of the government to create some inflation."[22] For example, while Greenspan publicly supported President Clinton's deficit reduction plan and the Bush tax cuts, Bernanke, when questioned about taxation policy, said that it was none of his business, his exclusive remit being monetary policy, and said that fiscal policy and wider society related issues were what politicians were for and got elected for. Indeed, in his undergraduate economics textbooks he somewhat distances himself from the rhetorical economic libertarianism of Greenspan.[citation needed]

His first months as chairman of the Federal Reserve System were marked by difficulties communicating with the media. An advocate of more transparent Fed policy and clearer statements than Greenspan had made, he had to back away from his initial idea of stating clearer inflation goals as such statements tended to affect the stock market.[23] Maria Bartiromo disclosed on CNBC their private conversation on Fed policy (in which Bernanke said investors had misinterpreted his comments as indicating that he was "dovish" on inflation), and he was criticized for making public statements about Fed direction.[24] Presidential candidate and Texas representative Ron Paul, a member of the House Banking Committee - who takes the view that the Federal Reserve System should be abolished and the economy should revert to 'Hard Assets'[25] - has criticized Bernanke for "continually lowering interest rates," which he avers to have caused drastic inflation and unnecessary growth of the money supply, leading to what Paul refers to as the "inflation tax."[26] However, many professional economists argued that failure to have lowered the Fed's target rate would have contributed far more significantly to recession, and urged Bernanke (and the rest of the Federal Open Market Committee) to lower the rate beyond what it had done. For example, Lawrence H. Summers, the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Economics at Harvard and former Treasury Secretary, wrote in the Financial Times on November 26, 2007 - in a column in which he argued that recession was likely - that "....maintaining demand must be the over-arching macro-economic priority. That means the Federal Reserve System has to get ahead of the curve and recognize - as the market already has - that levels of the Federal Funds rate that were neutral when the financial system was working normally are quite contractionary today."[27]

David Leonhardt of The New York Times wrote, on January 30, 2008, that "Dr. Bernanke's forecasts have been too sunny over the last six months. [On] the other hand, his forecast was a lot better than Wall Street's in mid-2006. Back then, he resisted calls for further interest rate increases because he thought the economy might be weakening. He was dead-on right about that — and the situation would be even worse now if he had listened to his critics then."[28]
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