Sunday, September 16, 2007

Alan Greenspan Dissected – What his New Book “The Age of Turbulence” Tells Us

Get ready for the coming week as former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s new book “The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World” hits the shelves. Personally, I will watch with amusement as the pundits of finance and politics jump breathlessly to glean sage-like comments and observations from its pages. An advance copy of the book was leaked out (imagine that!) and selected tidbits are making the rounds already. Perhaps not surprisingly the leaked passages are on the order of criticism toward Republicans. One wonders if a leak would have happened at all had the reverse been so.

Never the less, Republicans do deserve a bit of criticism here and there and Mr. Greenspan is always good for an interesting comment or two. So even though an advance copy of the book has not been made available to this author, let’s take a quick peak at some the salacity flying about in Bob Woodward’s piece in the (Washington Post).

The Current Batch of Republican Leaders
With regard to President Bush, Greenspan writes, "My biggest frustration remained the president's unwillingness to wield his veto against out-of-control spending. Not exercising the veto power became a hallmark of the Bush presidency. . . . To my mind, Bush's collaborate-don't-confront approach was a major mistake." Later on Greenspan capitalized that thought by suggesting that the Republicans deserved to loose their legislative majorities last year, “The Republicans in Congress lost their way," Greenspan writes. "They swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither."

The Maestro Greenspan was not done with his Republican colleagues yet. He went on to write, "House Speaker Hastert and House majority leader Tom DeLay seemed readily inclined to loosen the federal purse strings any time it might help add a few more seats to the Republican majority." In a later passage he continued that line of thinking, "I don't think the Democrats won. It was the Republicans who lost. The Democrats
came to power in the Congress because they were the only party left standing."

Fair enough. The Conservative landscape is jam-packed with right-leaning pundits who have been criticizing the current administration in this regard for years (including yours truly)—so there is little new here that we know of yet. It will be interesting to hear how this is played out in the media, however. Read correctly, Mr. Greenspan’s criticisms seem to be that the Republicans were not Conservative enough in their approach and deeds and that this is his cause for concern. It is certainly not a ringing endorsement of the Democrat platform. I suspect that the tone of reporting will not reflect this important distinction.

What About Bill Clinton?
Evidently the book also reveals Greenspan’s fascination with Bill Clinton. There are a few telling passages we have available to us. In the first, Greenspan appears quite smitten with our most recent recalcitrant president, “Here was a fellow information hound. . . . We both read books and were curious and thoughtful about the world.” OK then, we all know that Bill Clinton is bright and can be very charming. But, like the rest of the nation, Alan Greenspan felt personally let down by that same charming façade.

Upon hearing about Clinton’s trysts with Monica Lewinsky (etc.), he could not believe it, writing, "I was incredulous. ‘There is no way these stories could be correct,’ I told my friends. 'No way.' " After learning that the reports were indeed accurate, he wrote, "I wondered how the president could take such a risk. It seemed so alien to the Bill Clinton I knew, and made me feel disappointed and sad."

Sorry Alan, we all had to live through that nightmare together.

The Iraq War
Alan Greenspan also makes a seemingly cryptic comment regarding the current Iraq conflict. Again according to the Post, Mr. Greenspan writes, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." We are told that Mr. Greenspan does not elaborate. If true, his lack of elaboration is disappointing because of its apparent pop-liberal sensibility. One would expect such a comment from the ignorant left—the Cindy Sheehans and Daily Kos’ of the world, et al.

The comment is too trite to be well thought out and would betray a naiveté one would find surprising in a man of Alan Greenspan’s education and credentials. Economics always makes up a large part of why any country goes to war. Getting caught up in an individually labeled commodity or a particular activity is far too easy. Historically speaking one could argue that our entry into World War Two was also about oil due to our embargo of Japan; that our Civil War was about labor costs in agricultural production; that all of the Greco-Persian conflicts revolved around the taxation of trade routs; or even that our own Revolutionary War was about the restriction of tea imports: but to do so is to miss literally everything about a country’s sovereignty, freedom, security, and economic prosperity. (Can’t you just hear the Revolutionary War critics of the day—“No more blood for tea!”)

It is perfectly valid that Mr. Greenspan might be for or against the current Iraq conflict for any number of reasons. It will be disappointing if the quotation we have been provided is solely a politically correct malapropism tossed in as media fodder to aid book sales. It would be even worse if the complexities and economic consequences of the Iraq War were, to Alan Greenspan, a literary afterthought not worthy of serious consideration and dissertation. For now I will grant him the benefit of the doubt.

The Man Himself
The book makes us privy to other passages regarding economic principles and summations of the world economy (I’ll give away the ending—according to Mr. Greenspan the United States does quite well). In these comments and revelations, he has been given mostly positive reviews by those who have read the actual text. The book also contains his personal memoirs and the telling of his life with his spouse, television correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

All in all I do not believe that the electorate will be unduly influenced by the release of Alan Greenspan’s long-awaited book—nor will the pillars of capitalism be shaken. Hopefully, we will all get a little bit more insight into the mind of who was arguably one of the ten most powerful men in the world for a very long time.

Be well,


No comments: