Both Ben Bernanke and Steve Jobs have been featured in the news in recent days, reflecting respective individual influence over a decade.
Banker-scholar Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, made a policy speech at the annual financial conference at Jackson Hole, Wyo., in which he emphasized that policy will remain on the established steady course, at least in the near term.
Massive rapid expansion of the money supply is highly unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. More important, interest rates will remain near zero at least into 2013.
Business genius Jobs, who has led Apple to the top of the world in prominence and profitability, has announced that he is stepping down as chief executive officer in the face of long-term serious health challenges. He will remain as chairman.
Both leaders have been ceremonially celebrated by the international news media, in similar ways. Time magazine named Bernanke its "Person of the Year 2009" for his imaginative, indeed radical leadership in addressing the American and wider international financial crisis and recession.
Time the following year selected Mark Zuckerberg, precocious chief executive officer of Facebook, for the same honor. The Financial Times, the highly influential international newspaper based in London, announced that Jobs was its Person of the Year for 2010.
When the severe financial crisis hit in 2007, Bernanke and his associates reacted quickly and massively. Traditionally, the Fed has regulated U.S. finance through a combination of money supply and interest rates.
This time, the Fed took unprecedented actions. Funds were loaned directly to investment banks, and new forms of consumer credit relief developed. The Fed pursued substantial currency "swap" understandings with other central banks while pumping enormous amounts of money into the system.
Bernanke also went on the offensive in public education. Economists are notorious for esoteric ideas, jarring jargon often at odds with clarity, and a penchant for hedging on policy.
The plain-speaking Harry Truman said he longed for one-armed economists because, when asked for advice, the response usually was along the lines of "on the one hand, Mr. President, but on the other hand ..."
Bernanke breaks the stereotype. The chairman used clear language to press hard for financial regulatory reform, and in his latest speech criticized the lack of effective federal deficit reduction.
The Financial Times staff argues that Jobs disproves the famous aphorism of F. Scott Fitzgerald that "there are no second acts in American life." Jobs was only 25 years old when he and inventor Steve Wozniak launched Apple's first public financial offering on Wall Street. Later, Jobs was ousted, and Apple entered long-term decline in profitability and vision.
Jobs' return to Apple was followed by enormous, rapid and remarkable success punctuated by the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and now the iPad.
Bernanke and Jobs provide insight into profound changes in our organizational structures. In the 1960s, economist John Kenneth Galbraith's book "The New Industrial State" argued that enormous established corporations defined our economy. Middle management, "the technostructure," held sway. More broadly, many American economists believed that federal fiscal policies could achieve both strong growth and low unemployment.
In the 1970s, high inflation and unemployment, low growth and increasing global competition undercut these overly confident opinions. Governments lost credibility as economic managers. Central banks gained authority. Acceleration of technological change and global investment and trade sidelined Galbraith's static concepts.
Both Bernanke and Jobs understand this new world.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College. Email him at email@example.com.