Despite their professed independence, Fed Chairmen are more 'political' than many realise. Greenspan met a steady stream of politicians and White House officials during his reign. The Financial Markets Center have just published a piece on what they call the Fed Chairman’s Daybook, based on the work of the indefatigable Wharton finance professor Ken Thomas:
Over the years, Fed chairmen have maintained a detailed log of their meetings with members of Congress and the executive branch. Using this data, scholar Ken Thomas has produced a series of reports that offer a unique window on the central bank’s interactions with the rest of government.
The newest installment of Dr. Thomas’ research provides an inside look at new Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s dealings with official Washington during his first four months in office. It includes a list of each meeting Dr. Bernanke held with top officials from the White House, Treasury, Congress and other parts of government during this period as well as a Bernanke Political Index derived from that information.
New pages at the FMC site also describe the central bank’s actions to block access to information on Alan Greenspan’s meetings with other government officials during the former chairman’s final seven months in office. In addition: a retrospective look at the Greenspan Political Index (with a guest appearance by the ghost of Arthur Burns).
On Bernanke's performace to date, Thomas concludes:
In terms of their frequency, Bernanke’s White House meetings in this period are consistent with Greenspan’s seemingly apolitical pattern during President Clinton’s second term. Also, eight of Bernanke’s nine White House meetings were with NEC or CEA principals, rather than Greenspan-style private meetings with top White House or Cabinet officials.
...Overall, Dr. Bernanke averaged 2.2 political meetings of all types per week for his first four months as Fed chairman. This number slightly exceeds the 2.0 average Greenspan recorded during 1996-2000 but significantly lags the 3.1 average he registered from 2001 through mid-year 2005.
Based on these initial data, it appears that Chairman Bernanke has begun his term honoring the notion of Fed independence by limiting the scale of his interactions with political figures. Hopefully, subsequent data will continue to reflect this relatively apolitical approach.