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Release of Federal Reserve Financial Crisis Documents Shines Light on Government Response

CNNMoney: “If it wasn’t already obvious, it certainly is now: The Federal Reserve didn’t see the Great Recession coming until it was in the thick of the crisis. “I think there are a lot of indications that we may soon be in a recession,” former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told his colleagues in January 2008, not knowing then that the deepest recession since the Great Depression was already well underway. It wasn’t until after Lehman Brothers collapsed in mid-September that Bernanke said he was absolutely sure the U.S. had entered a recession. On Friday morning, the Federal Reserve released more than 1,500 pages featuring word-for-word transcripts from its 14 policy-making meetings and conference calls in 2008. This was a critical year in which the Fed decided to slash its interest rates to near zero and launch an unprecedented bond-buying program, all in an attempt to stimulate the U.S. economy. But leading up to those decisions, Federal Reserve officials seemed uncertain about their economic outlook and their actions. The transcripts show they focused heavily on fears about inflation and instability in financial markets, while mentions of unemployment are few and far between. To be fair, the data then did not yet point to the full-blown jobs crisis that has since followed. Meeting just a day after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in September 2008, they couldn’t agree on whether their decision to allow the investment bank to fail was the right move. “I think it’s too soon to know whether what we did with Lehman is right,” said Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren. “I think we did the right thing given the constraints that we had. I hope we get through this week.”

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