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As Ben Bernanke, the outgoing chairman of the Federal Reserve, must recognize, he is the victim of the law of diminishing returns. In the initial days of the 2008-09 financial crisis, he mobilized the Fed as the lender of last resort. This helped quell an intensifying financial panic and, arguably, averted a second Great Depression. Bernanke’s role has been much praised and deserves the nation’s gratitude. It is doubtful anyone else would have done better.

But Bernanke’s ambition transcended calamity prevention. He sought to kick-start the economy by keeping short-term interest rates low (effectively zero since late 2008) and by massive bond-buying (called “quantitative easing”).

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