Ben Bernanke served as chairman of the Federal Reserve for eight years beginning in 2006, setting monetary policy through the worst of the Great Recession. He left the Fed three years ago and is now a Distinguished Fellow in Residence at the Brookings Institution.
His memoir "The Courage to Act," which chronicles the economic crisis and its aftermath, is out in paperback Tuesday with an update featuring his reaction to the 2016 election.
Bernanke joined "CBS This Morning" Tuesday to discuss America's economic growth, what he believes President Trump tapped into during the election, and why it's too early to say whether Trump's economic policy will work.
On whether a 3.2 percent annual growth rate projected by the Trump team is achievable and sustainable, Bernanke said, "Probably not. No, not unless we get kind of lucky, honestly. But certainly we want to do what we can to improve our pace of growth."
In his new afterword, Bernanke wrote that Donald Trump "shocked the world" by defeating Hillary Clinton with his "dystopian assessment of the U.S. economy."
For Bernanke, that assessment was "odd." He explained, "In many ways the U.S. economy is doing very well. We created 16 million jobs since 2009. The unemployment rate went from 10 percent down to 4.5 percent. Housing market is coming back. Lots of things are positive. And yet, Mr. Trump won the election by talking about 42 percent unemployment and things like that. So, it wasn't accurate —there's not 42 percent unemployment — but he was right that there are some people who are being left behind."
Included in those who were left behind, according to Bernanke, are many young men.
"You've got a lot of young men between ages 25 and 54 — in the past they would have been working at a regular job but today about 12 percent of those men are not working or even looking for work. So, those kinds of trends, which are very long-standing, they're not recent, have left behind a lot of people, and that's the kind of concern that Donald Trump tapped into," Bernanke said.
According to Bernanke, it's too early to judge what he's seen from Mr. Trump's administration so far in terms of economic policy.
"The markets got really excited after the election, expecting rapid changes in fiscal policy, regulation and so on. I wrote in my book that I thought because of these different political influences and the fact that even within the Republican Party there's a lot of disagreement, I argued it would take a long time for this stuff to be put in place."
On dealing with income inequality and the plight of the middle class, he feels we're missing upward mobility for the people in the bottom quarter of income distribution.
"So what we need is a whole raft of things including Pre-K intervention, better schooling, apprenticeships, stronger college programs, a whole variety of things to get people better trained give them a chance to make it up into the upper echelon," Bernanke said.
"CBS This Morning" co-host Norah O'Donnell asked whether it's realistic to bring back lost manufacturing and mining jobs. Bernanke replied, "No, it's not realistic."
"Instead of going back to the past and trying to reproduce 1960s assembly lines, it'd be much better to go to the industries of the future," he said. "People miss what they had but you have to look forward and look for the opportunities in the future."