Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said he had to “hold his nose” over last year’s taxpayer-funded bailouts of America’s financial giants.
But Mr Bernanke defended the action as necessary to avoid a major meltdown of the United States’ financial system and the broader economy.
His comments came during a town-hall style meeting in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was peppered with questions about the decisions last year to rescue so-called “too-big-to-fail companies” like insurance giant American International Group, whose collapse could have damaged the global economy.
The Fed chief, who took the helm in February 2006, has been on the front lines of efforts to battle the financial crisis and end the recession, the longest since the Second World War.
His aggressive and unconventional actions – including supporting AIG with £109.8 billion – have been credited with averting a financial catastrophe last year, but also have sparked anger from the public and politicians about helping financial companies that made reckless gambles.
A small-business owner told Mr Bernanke that such actions were “hard to swallow”, saying he felt like small businesses had been short-changed.
“Nothing made me more frustrated, more angry, than having to intervene” when companies were “taking wild bets,” Mr Bernanke said.
But not acting would have had grave consequences for the economy, he added. “I was not going to be the Federal Reserve chairman who presided over the second Great Depression. I had to hold my nose. ... I’m as disgusted as you are. ... I absolutely understand your frustration.”