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Former President George W. Bush appointed Bernanke as the Fed leader in 2006. His second term as chairman ended in 2014 when he was succeeded by Janet Yellen.
"When faced with potential global economic meltdown, he has displayed tremendous courage and creativity," former President Barack Obama said when Bernanke stepped down. "He took bold action that was needed to avert another Depression."
Critics, however, assailed Bernanke for failing to spot -- and address -- the housing bubble and for relaxed monetary policy they argued set the table for high inflation. He has said in interviews that he regrets not foreseeing the crisis.
The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression was triggered by overheating in the housing markets. Banks and other lenders approved mortgages, sometimes to borrowers with poor credit histories, driving up home prices to astronomical levels. Banks then sold the risky mortgage-backed securities to other financial institutions.
Bernanke grew up in Dillon, South Carolina. He received his bachelor's degree from Havard and a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is one of the country's foremost scholars on the Great Depression -- a background that proved useful during the Great Recession.
Under Bernanke's leadership, the central bank slashed interest rates to near zero, but it also ventured into uncharted territory. The Fed went on an unprecedented bond-buying spree and its balance sheet expanded by about five times to more than $4 trillion.
Economists have said Bernanke's work at the Fed during the 2008 crisis paved the way for Fed's response under current chairman Jerome Powell to the coronavirus pandemic. The Fed's balance sheet is at roughly $7.1 trillion and is expected to soar to $10 trillion by the end of the year.
Bernanke is now with the Brookings Institution, the Washington, D.C.-based think tank he joined after leaving the Fed in 2014.