Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Alan Greenspan, Meet Irony

There have been a number of posts about the morsels of revisionist history in Alan Greenspan's new memoir, The Age of Turbulence. I think Brad DeLong gets the indictment exactly right toward the end of his book review:

One piece of this third book is worth noting: Greenspan's defense of his tenure as Fed chief. Why does he need a defense? Thirty-five out of 36 decisions is a very good batting average. But one could indict him on four counts: that he should not have, but did, support the Bush tax cut of 2001; that he should not have, but did, encourage new U.S. homeowners to get adjustable-rate mortgages -- ARMs -- in the early 2000s; that he should have done something to abort the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s; and that he should have done something to prevent the real estate bubble of the 2000s.

The first two counts are misdemeanors, and Greenspan pleads guilty. He says that he was warned that his testimony on the proposed 2001 tax cut would send a different message than he intended and that he ignored those warnings, which proved correct. Greenspan says his support for a tax cut was nuanced and partial, provided there were triggers to prevent budget deficits but that his statements were interpreted by the news media and politicians as a blanket endorsement. He adds that he did not understand how institutionally corrupt and thus unconcerned about good budget policy his Republican Party had become by early 2001. He says he did not properly understand in the early 2000s the large effect low teaser interest rates and prepayment penalties would have in leading new and financially strapped homeowners into deals that were not in their best interest.

The other two counts could be considered economic felonies, and here Greenspan stands his ground. Given the state of investor psychology, he says, he could have aborted the stock market and housing bubbles of the late 1990s and the early 2000s but only by paying an unacceptable price in idled factories and unemployed workers. He may be right and he may be wrong in this judgment -- I don't know. I do know that this is a judgment call, a difficult aspect of monetary policy.

I find it fascinating that someone whose tenure as Fed Chair was aptly characterized by the paraphrase, "If you understood what I said, then I must have misspoken," would now be complaining that his statements in support of the President's tax cuts in 2001 were misconstrued.


Anonymous said...

DeLong has no standing to bring charges against anyone. As much as he would like to run the world, he will never get the chance.

Uncle Jeffy said...

Ah, irony - thy name is Alan Greenspan.

Incidentally, anonymous - Brad DeLong probably got a lot closer to running the world (during the Clinton administration) than you or I ever will.