Captains of the Economy: The 10 Who Shaped the U.S. Economy the Most Since 2000

What does it take to shape and change the U.S. economy? Try lots of power, lots of money or, of course, both.

The nine men and one woman on the list fit into at least one of those categories. Some came to prominence during the financial crisis, while others had already been influential figures in their own right before the economy's latest wild ride.

Have suggestions for additions to this list? Please feel free to add them in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Henry Paulson

In September 2008, as the country stood on the brink of what might have been economic collapse, Henry Paulson was arguably the most powerful man in America. Together with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, he convinced U.S. lawmakers to approve a sweeping $700 billion bailout of the country's banks -- the Troubled Asset Relief Plan, designed to save the U.S. banking system from ruin and stop the economy from grinding to a halt.

pic of treasury secretary henry paulson

Appointed by a Republican president, Paulson's push to use taxpayer money for such dramatic government intervention into the private sector shocked and angered many Republicans in Congress. Other critics, meanwhile, looked suspiciously at Paulson's own ties to the banking industry: Before being appointed Treasury Secretary in June 2006, Paulson had been the CEO of investment banking giant Goldman Sachs.

The bank bailout came after months of other private sector rescue efforts under Paulson's watch, including the government-financed sale of crumbling investment bank Bear Stearns to JPMorgan Chase, the governmement takeover of mortgage titans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the $180 billion lifeline to the crippled insurance company AIG.

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One firm that notably did not get bailed out under Paulson's tenure? Investment bank Lehman Brothers, whose collapse sent shock waves throughout the world's financial markets. Paulson was widely criticized for failing to save Lehman; the bank bailout was passed days after the firm's collapse.

Today, while many argue that the bailout achieved its goal -- keeping the U.S. financial system afloat -- others complain that Paulson and the Treasury Department's actions that September bolstered rich bankers without offering relief to average Americans. Paulson, meanwhile, is now largely out of the public eye, serving as a distinguished visiting scholar at John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.


Ben Bernanke

A long-time academic who once chaired the economics department at Princeton University, Ben S. Bernanke took over a seemingly sparkling U.S. economy from then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in 2006.

The new Federal Reserve chairman quickly gained a reputation as a transparent technocrat with an expertise in the Great Depression, a subject he wrote about extensively as a scholar. Though Bernanke was slow to recognize the risks of the housing crisis to the wider economy -- as late as the spring of 2008, he brushed off the significance of real estate declines -- Bernanke was quick to react once markets began to unravel that summer.

He cut interest rates, lent billions of dollars to faltering banks and even took bad mortgages on the Fed's books. He joined then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in pushing for the controversial $700 billion bank bailout, warning of dire economic consequences should the plan not be adopted.

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