Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's public search for better tools to measure economic "happiness" struck a chord yesterday with Hub workers and Fed watchers who said his comments demonstrate the disconnect between central bankers and struggling Americans.
"A lot of things they say are more 'put on a good face for the public' when in reality they know how bleak things are and what direction we're going in," said Jeff Kiley, 25, an account executive from Somerville. "We're kind of just treading water right now instead of thriving or getting beyond what's happened in the past three or four years."
In a speech delivered in Cambridge, Bernanke said "aggregate statistics" that point to a recovery can sometimes mask the fact that "many individuals and households continue to struggle with difficult economic and financial conditions."
"We should increase the attention paid to microeconomic data, which better capture the diversity of experience across households and firms," Bernanke told the International Association for Research in Income and Wealth. "We should seek better and more-direct measurements of economic well-being, the ultimate objective of our policy decisions."
Boston dentist Becky Zakelj, 32, said Bernanke's comments were "a little bit odd" but may be a another sign of the Fed trying to open up.
"You would hope that they are doing everything they can to increase transparency, especially at a time like this where there are so many things being covered up," Zakelj said. "The more you can understand what's going on, the less you can pretend that things have greatly improved."
Cornelius Hurley, director of Boston University's Center for Finance, Law and Policy, noted there was no mention of "fairness" -- one of the issues that sparked last year's Occupy Wall Street movement -- in Bernanke's speech.
"The Fed missed the ball in the financial crisis, not because it didn't have enough data. It's because they didn't know how to interpret data," Hurley said.
Walker Todd of the American Institute of Economic Research in Great Barrington was skeptical the Fed would ever find effective tools to pursue happiness at the micro level.
"It's a mismatch," Todd said. "Bernanke has a hammer and you have a problem over there that requires wrenches, screwdrivers, pins and the like."
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