Semantics Save the Fed Chief

By Drahuschak, Gregory M. | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 18, 2007 | Go to article overview

Semantics Save the Fed Chief


Drahuschak, Gregory M., Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Semantics is defined as the meaning or the interpretation of a word, sentence or other language form.

In his textbook, "The Use and Misuse of Language," the now- deceased San Francisco University professor of English and U.S. senator from California, S.I. Hayakawa, taught his students how to carefully craft words and phrases so that readers could not possibly misunderstand what they meant. Hayakawa's book was unique because despite being a college textbook, it was enjoyable reading. Hayakawa practiced what he preached.

Somewhere along the line, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke certainly learned the lessons Hayakawa taught.

Bernanke's most recent writing came in the form of his testimony to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs last week.

Bernanke's 2,739-word presentation outlined, as the law prescribes, current U.S. economic conditions and how they relate to the Federal Reserve's credit policy.

According to Bernanke, the U.S. economy is in generally good condition, albeit with a few near-term problems that he felt could be handled relatively easily.

At first glance, the Fed chairman's prepared remarks appeared to be simple statements of facts with occasional assumptions about possibilities thrown in as he tried to offer his view of economic prospects. But it was in those assumptions that Bernanke crafted his presentation carefully so that no one mistakenly would think he was presenting a Pollyannaish economic forecast.

Knowing that many of the items he addressed had political implications, Bernanke had to shape his presentation well. With a minimum wage bill close to coming up for a vote, wage-related issues were particularly sensitive and had to be treated carefully so that he could not be accused of harboring any political bias.

Although the federal budget deficit and entitlements came up in the question-and-answer portion of his testimony, the most interesting aspect of Bernanke's presentation was that he totally avoided both issues in his formal remarks despite having written and spoken about both subjects often in recent months. …

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