News & Politics

Ben Bernanke: 5 Things to Know About DC’s Nobel Prize Winner

The former Federal Reserve chairman is a Nats fan and competed in the National Spelling Bee.

Former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences with fellow economists Douglas Diamond and Philip H. Dybvig, the Nobel Prize announced today. A leading scholar of the Great Depression, Bernanke helped the US navigate the Great Recession in the late 2000s, and the prize-winning research looks at how banks navigate financial crises. Here are five things to know about DC’s Nobel Prize winner.

He’s a huge Nationals fan.

Bernanke’s life isn’t all policy and economic theory—there’s room for baseball, too, and apparently a lot of it. The economist is known to frequent Nationals Park, and apparently once complained that the Fed gig was getting in the way of his game attendance. The Federal Reserve even made Bernanke his own baseball card—featuring the ex-chair in a Nats uniform—as part of his going away shindig.

He identifies as a moderate independent. 

Republican President George W. Bush nominated Bernanke to chair the Federal Reserve in 2005. The economist, a Republican at the time, was subsequently nominated for a second term by Democratic President Barack Obama. However, in his 2015 book the Courage to Act, the former Fed chair wrote that he now views himself as a moderate independent. “[I] lost patience with Republicans’ susceptibility to the know-nothing-ism of the far right,” writes Bernanke. “I didn’t leave the Republican Party. I felt that the party left me.”

He competed in the National Spelling Bee.

Before he became one of the world’s leading economists (there’s even an economic doctrine named after him), Bernanke was—perhaps unsurprisingly—a whiz kid from Dillon, South Carolina. According to a 2005 article in the Washington Post, Bernanke had an “auspicious youth.” For one, he was a child word aficionado who won South Carolina’s state spelling bee. Following his victory, Bernanke competed in the 1965 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Alas, he finished in 26th place after tripping over the word “edelweiss.”

He’s a senior fellow at Brookings. 

After leaving the Federal Reserve, Bernanke joined DC think tank Brookings in 2014. As a distinguished senior fellow in residence, Bernanke advises the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy. His areas of expertise?  Analyzing and recommending economic policies, naturally, and helping improve public understanding of those policies.

He’s not part of the Beltway party scene. 

You’re not likely to spot Bernanke partying it up in Politico Playbook. When Time named the economist Person of the Year in 2009, the accompanying article painted  him as “the most powerful nerd on the planet” with a reserved personality. “He’s shy. He doesn’t do the DC dinner-party circuit; he prefers to eat at home with his wife, who still makes him do the dishes and take out the trash,” wrote Michael Grunwald. “Then they do crosswords or read. Because Ben Bernanke is a nerd.”



Jessica Ruf
Assistant Editor