Five years ago, two middle-aged nerds launched risky ventures that spun out of their control. Both are now trying to end those ventures cleanly, while facing their own demise.
I'm talking, of course, about Ben Bernanke and Walter White.
You might think it is illogical to compare the real-life Federal Reserve Chairman to a fictional crystal-meth kingpin. But I think it would be even more illogical not to do so, logic policeman.
Because there are just too many eerie parallels between Bernanke's harrowing ride at the helm of the Fed and White's terrifying journey on the AMC TV series "Breaking Bad," which is in its final episodes this month. (ALERT: Here come some spoilers for "Breaking Bad," and also for the Fed, if you've been waiting for the Fed box set to come out on DVD.)
These are the coincidences that knock on the door of plausibility:
1. Both men got their start in 2008.
The year of the financial crisis was the beginning of the journey for both Bernanke and White. "Breaking Bad" debuted on January 20 of that year, in an episode that saw White respond to the horrible news of terminal lung cancer by taking the drastic step of cooking crystal meth. On January 22, Bernanke responded to the horrible news of turmoil in financial markets by taking the drastic step of cutting the Fed's target interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point. Coincidence?
2. Both started off sort of slowly, but took increasingly bolder steps.
The Fed kind of took its sweet time helping the economy, even as things kept getting worse throughout 2008. But the Lehman Brothers collapse finally pushed Bernanke to slash interest rates to zero, an unprecedented move. After that, Bernanke took ever-more-exotic measures to fight aggressively high unemployment, including several rounds of "quantitative easing," or buying bonds to lower interest rates. White started slowly, too, at first just cooking small batches of meth. But violent confrontations with drug dealers finally pushed White to murder, an unprecedented move for him. After that, he took ever-more-desperate measures to build and protect a meth empire, including blowing up a nursing home, robbing a train and coordinating a string of prison killings.
3. Both have addicted customers hungering for more.
Bernanke cranks out free money, which is economic crystal meth, beloved by financial markets. White cranks out crystal-blue, nearly-pure meth, which is actual crystal meth, beloved by addicts.
4. Both are big in emerging markets.
White's meth is a huge hit in the Czech Republic. Bernanke's money has helped pump up currencies and stocks in Brazil, India and elsewhere.
5. Both are now trying to get out of the messes they've made.
Bernanke, anxious about the market-warping effects of so much monetary stimulus, is starting to "taper" the Fed's bond purchases, with an eye toward ending them by some time next year. White, anxious about the family-destroying effects of so much murdering and general criminality, has tried to retire to a quiet life of car-washing and money-laundering.
6. Both have had trouble getting out.
Bernanke's talk about tapering bond purchases has caused a financial-market freakout, sending interest rates skyrocketing. Weak economic data have also forced the Fed to dial back its tapering plan. White's effort to walk away from his life as a drug kingpin has been foiled by his DEA agent brother-in-law's choice of bathroom reading and by heavily armed Nazis, which are almost as scary as financial markets.
7. Neither one is long for this world.
Bernanke's term at the Fed ends in January. White's term on this earth ends very soon, owing to the return of his cancer. And his series finale is set for September 29.
8. Facial hair.