Outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday dismissed concerns that the central bank's extraordinary stimulus program is taking a growing toll on the economy, such as by raising the risk of future high inflation. "Some of the costs people talk about are not really costs," Bernanke said in an interview with author and former banking industry official Liaquat Ahamed at the Brookings Institution . His comments came in what was likely his last public appearance as Fed chairman. Bernanke, who helped lead the nation from the financial crisis and Great Recession, is stepping down Jan. 31 . Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen will succeed Bernanke, becoming the first woman to head the central bank. On inflation, Bernanke said, "I think we have plenty of tools to manage interest rates and tighten monetary policy even if (the Fed's) balance sheet stays where it is or gets bigger." Since the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed has launched several rounds of Treasury and mortgage bond purchases to push down long-term interest rates, swelling the Fed's balance sheet to more than $4 trillion . The Fed began to taper its most recent round of purchases last month and expects to end them by year's end. Some economists have said the benefits of the stimulus have waned and the inflation risk has swelled. To head off sharply rising wages and prices, Bernanke has said the Fed can temporarily sell many of the bonds it has purchased -- a strategy know as "reverse repurchases" -- to sop up money from the banking system. Bernanke also noted inflation remains well under the Fed's 2% annual target. Bernanke said the only genuine risk of the Fed's bond-buying is the danger of asset bubbles as low interest rates drive investments to riskier holdings, such as stocks, real estate or junk bonds. But he added that he thinks stocks and other markets "seem to be within historical ranges." He said that if bubbles begin to form, the Fed would be inclined to use its regulatory authority to pop them, rather than resort to raising interest rates. Bernanke said he has been frustrated by the fact that Congress has not helped the Fed stimulate growth, opting to cut the deficit rather than boost infrastructure spending, for example, and staging showdowns over raising the nation's borrowing authority. "I have felt some frustration," he said. "Certainly those things have caused problems for the economy; they've hit confidence." Bernanke was also asked about his unruffled "Buddha"-like demeanor during the financial crisis as the Fed took unprecedented steps to provide liquidity to a financial system that virtually froze as mortgage-related losses mounted at top banks. "It's my nature, I think, to focus on the problem and I was so absorbed in what was happening," Bernanke told Ahamed. "If you're in a car crash, you're mostly involved in trying to not go off the bridge and later on you say, 'Oh, my God!'" Bernanke disputed the suggestion that the effects of the crisis could have been minimized if top officials had asked Congress to approve the $700 billion bailout program sooner. "There was no chance we could have gotten (a similar program) before it was becoming evident how serious the situation would be." Bernanke said he wasn't surprised by enduring populist criticism of the Fed's efforts to prop up financial institutions and inject money into the financial system -- though he says they were resoundingly successful. He said there was similar reaction to the Fed's response to financial panics in the 1930s. "If we had not done it" a depression would have ensued and "the populist reaction would have exploded as well, so we were stuck." "We hope as the economy improves and we tell our story and more information comes out about why we did what we did, people will appreciate and understand what we did was necessary." Charles Dharapak , AP
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