Along with now-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Bernanke made sure that healthy banks absorbed failed ones such as Bear Stearns and Wachovia, although he, like Paulson, was criticized for failing to predict the disastrous ramifications of letting Lehman Brothers collapse. He has also been faulted for leaving the housing bubble unchecked and for bailing out Wall Street with taxpayer money, but the soft-spoken saxophone aficionado has generally earned widespread respect.
Timothy Geithner was central to the government's efforts to save the country's financial system months before he was sworn in as U.S. Treaury Secretary in January. The president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York since 2003, Geithner was a key architect of the $30 billion government-financed deal to sell foundering Bear Stearns -- the first major investment bank to fall victim to the financial crisis -- to JPMorgan Chase in March 2008. The following fall, Geithner negotiated the infusion of tens of billions of government dollars into faltering insurance giant AIG.
Geithner has experience with financial crises: As Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs from 1999 to 2001, he helped then-Treasury Secretaries Larry Summers and Robert Rubin tackle the financial meltdowns in Asia.
Today at the Treasury Department, Geithner is the face of everything from the government's $787 stimulus package to foreclosure rescue efforts to proposals for reforms of the banking industry. But keeping busy hasn't kept Geithner safe from skewerings at the hands of critics, including three lawmakers who have called for his resignation. They argue that an unemployment rate of 10.2 percent and mishandling of the stimulus package prove that the Obama administration's economic policies aren't working. Geithner's retort? That critics shouldn't forget what happened before Obama took office.
"You gave this president an economy falling off the cliff," Geithner told Congress.
Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve Chairman from 1987 to 2006, was once considered a financial oracle who miraculously tamed the economy and gave Americans some of their most prosperous decades. Famous for coining the term "irrational exuberance" as a warning about the 1990s Internet bubble, he was known for cryptic pronouncements that Wall Street struggled to parse. These days, he is more likely to be viewed as the overconfident theorist who missed a massive housing bubble and led trusting Americans into the biggest financial crash since the Great Depression.
He was tapped to lead the Fed in August 1987 -- just before stock market crash known as Black Friday. But in the years that followed, Greenspan presided over unprecedented gains in economic growth, sharp stock market gains and soaring home ownership. A jazz enthusiast and close friend of libertarian Ayn Rand, he slashed interest rates and gave banks wide berth, convinced that markets could regulate themselves.
But the vision he chased turned out to be a mirage. Within two years of his departure, the housing market collapsed, which exposed the flaws of his era's easy credit and lax oversight.
In October 2008, Greenspan took some blame for the financial crisis during questioning by lawmakers at a Congressional hearing. He "made a mistake," he said, in presuming that banks were best capable of protecting themselves and their shareholders.