Hey, Ben Bernanke. Nice job on the news conference on Wednesday.
You talked for 50 minutes, took tons of the usual questions, and delivered zero news.
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This, by Washington, D.C., standards, was a raging success. All that air time for nothing but air.
It's hard to believe it took the Federal Reserve Bank until 2011 to come up with the idea of having its chairman do a press conference. Since your organization is so clearly behind the information-age curve, I thought you might appreciate a few pointers for next time.
* Stand at a podium. Do not hide behind a desk. You are the most powerful man in the world. Not a state motor vehicle department clerk.
* If you must use a desk, don't use that desk. It looked like a console piano. I first thought you were going to sing your own rendition of "Viva Las Vegas."
* Open with a joke. Here's one you may already know: How many economists does it take to screw up an economy?
* Don't say "you people." Just listen to yourself: "Gas, of course, is a necessity. You people need to drive to get to work." So how do you get to work? Does the helicopter dumping all those dollars into the air also take you to the office? No wonder you scantly notice the inflation.
* Try to anticipate which questions will make you nervous. Then try to appear equally nervous about softball questions. This way, nobody will notice sudden shifts in body language or speech patterns. You seemed especially nervous on the gas-price question:
"Gasoline prices, obviously, um, have risen quite significantly," you began. Then you looked to one side, which always looks shifty on TV. Then you tapped the microphone. Then you said, "Um, and we of course are watching carefully, that, um, higher gas prices are, um, uh, absolutely creating a great deal of hardship for a lot of people, um...um, so it's obviously a very bad development."
* Smile. It's scary enough when the Fed decides to put on a press conference amid stubborn unemployment, continuing foreclosures and skyrocketing food and energy costs. But so what? This is nothing. You've saved the world from another Great Depression. At least so far. So smile.
* Work on your bedside manner. Imagine a doctor talking about a patient the way you talk about the economy: "We are in a moderate recovery. We'll be looking very carefully first to see if that recovery is indeed sustainable..."
* When asked for your definition of "extended period," you said, "The reason we use this vaguer terminology is that we don't know, with certainty, how quickly a response will be required." It's OK to say you don't know. It's even better to say, "We'll keep pumping free money into the banking system, as many ways as we can think of, for as long as we feel like it."
* Quit using the temporal nature of existence to discount unfavorable trends. Saying commodity prices are "transitory," or saying, "Well, the dollar fluctuates," sounds like Yogi Berra: "You can observe a lot by watching." And the world is watching.
* Ditch the term "headline inflation." Headlines have actually gotten smaller as have most newspapers.
* When asked about Standard & Poor's recent threat to downgrade the nation's credit rating, you responded: "S&P's action didn't really tell us anything because everybody who reads the newspaper knows that the United States has a very serious long-term fiscal problem." Don't harp about someone else's non-news event in the middle of your own non-news event.
Also, remember, loose monetary policy inspires loose fiscal policy. Quit complaining about the mess you and Alan Greenspan helped make.
* Don't act too humble. "There's not much the Federal Reserve can do about gas prices.. The Fed can't create more oil." Yes, but oil is denominated in dollars. And you control the flow.
* Some Main Street viewers might not understand the Federal Reserve flag displayed beside the American flag on your stage, so you might want to explain: Is the Fed its own country or its own planet?
* The Washington press corps went easy on you since this was your first time. Anticipate harder questions the next time, including: What are you going to do for a living when Congressman Ron Paul abolishes the Federal Reserve? And, do you personally own a boatload of gold, because you sure are making it skyrocket?
(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at firstname.lastname@example.org or tellittoal.com)