Ben Bernanke came to GW today, giving the first of his four lectures this month to a group of thirty lucky undergrads enrolled in a GW course about the Federal Reserve and its place in the modern political economy. Bernanke has been eager to demystify the Fed, and in doing so, to bolster the Fed’s public image and to defend the institution from its many ardent congressional and other critics.
I had the good fortune of sitting in on the class today, since I’m co-teaching the course with Bernanke. Well, “co-teaching”, I suppose, in a very loose sorta way. Does it matter that we’ll never be at the lecturn on the same day at the same time? Does it matter that I’ll attend his lectures, but he won’t attend mine? Does it matter that he’s unlikely to look at the rest of the syllabus? Minor technicalities. I’m c0-teaching with the man whose words can crash markets around the world.
So what’s it like being in class with Big Ben? For loyal Monkey Cage readers, an insider’s view of Bernanke’s return to the classroom:
1. With the exception of the bomb-sniffing dog who greets you at the door, our lectures are an awful lot alike. Bernanke likes to use Frank Capra movies starring Jimmy Stewart to illustrate his points. Today, he referenced It’s a Wonderful Life, even though no one under age 21 in the classroom seems to ever seen it. I too only reference Frank Capra movies staring Jimmy Stewart, though I’m more likely to use Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
2. When Bernanke teaches at GW, the president of the university introduces him, the students clap when he walks in, and his staff has already set up the Powerpoint. When I teach at GW, I have to introduce myself, no one claps, and I often have to call over to Academic Technologies to ask them to swing by with the missing VGA cable.
3. Not surprisingly, Bernanke comes to class prepared with a very polished set of slides. He even provides copyright information and obtains requisite reproduction permission when he illustrates his slides. A little dodgy screen shot usually suffices for me.
4. When Bernanke speaks, the students sit at rapt attention taking notes (even during March Madness). And with the aid of name placards, Bernanke calls on students by their first name when taking their questions. He compliments students—“Well, that’s a great question”—and he relishes the opportunity to pound away at the economic folly of the gold standard. I suspect that Bernanke wasn’t used to lecturing in a business suit and tie. But I got the sense by the end of the class that he was truly enjoying his blast back to his past. “I’ll see you Thursday,” he said, as he smiled and left the classroom. I hope his staff remembered to take out his flash drive.