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Friday, September 14, 2007

Greenspan on Republicans: "They Deserved to Lose"

Alan Greenspan isn't happy with Republicans. He also says the housing boom during his tenure as Chair of the Fed was caused by the end of communism, not Fed policy to keep interest rates low:

Greenspan Book Criticizes Bush And Republicans, by Greg Ip and Emily Steel, WSJ (free): In a withering critique of his fellow Republicans, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says in his memoir that the party ... deserved to lose power last year for forsaking its small-government principles.

In [his new book] "The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World," ..., Mr. Greenspan criticizes both congressional Republicans and President George W. Bush for abandoning fiscal discipline. ...

Mr. Greenspan, who calls himself a "lifelong libertarian Republican," writes that he advised the White House to veto some bills to curb "out-of-control" spending while the Republicans controlled Congress. He says President Bush's failure to do so "was a major mistake." Republicans in Congress, he writes, "swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose."

Many economists say the Fed, by cutting short-term interest rates to 1% in mid-2003 and keeping them there for a year, helped foster a housing bubble that is now bursting. In his book, which was largely written before much of the recent turmoil in credit markets, Mr. Greenspan defends the policy. "We wanted to shut down the possibility of corrosive deflation," he writes. "We were willing to chance that by cutting rates we might foster a bubble, an inflationary boom of some sort, which we would subsequently have to address....It was a decision done right."

He attributes the housing boom to the end of communism, which he says unleashed hundreds of millions of workers on global markets, putting downward pressure on wages and prices, and thus on long-term interest rates. ...

Mr. Greenspan writes that when President Bush chose Dick Cheney as vice president and Paul O'Neill as treasury secretary -- both colleagues from the Gerald Ford administration, during which Mr. Greenspan was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers -- he "indulged in a bit of fantasy" that this would be the government that would have resulted if Mr. Ford hadn't lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976. But Mr. Greenspan discovered that in the Bush White House, the "political operation was far more dominant" than in Mr. Ford's. "Little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences," he writes. ...

He devotes chapters to each of the major economic challenges facing the U.S. and the world. On energy, he recommends more use of nuclear power, and he predicts efforts to reduce global warming with carbon caps or taxes will fail. Rising income inequality could undo "the cultural ties that bind our society" and even lead to "large-scale violence." The remedy, he says, is not higher taxes on the rich but improved education, which can be helped by paying math teachers more.

Mr. Greenspan returns repeatedly to the far-reaching importance of communism's collapse. He says it discredited central planning throughout the world and inspired China and later India to throw off socialist policies. ...

In coming years, as the globalization process winds down, he predicts inflation will become harder to contain. Recent increases in the price of imports from China and a rise in long-term interest rates suggest "the turn may be upon us sooner rather than later."

Left alone, he said, the Fed's policy-making body, the Federal Open Market Committee, can keep inflation between 1% and 2%, but that could require forcing interest rates to double-digits, a level "not seen since the days of Paul Volcker," his predecessor as Fed chairman. "I fear that my successors on the FOMC, as they strive to maintain price stability in the coming quarter century, will run into populist resistance from Congress, if not from the White House," he writes.

If the Fed succumbs to that pressure, inflation could rise from a little over 2% at present to an average of 4% to 5% by the year 2030, he writes. Ten-year Treasury yields, now below 5%, will rise to "at least 8%" with the potential to go "significantly higher for brief periods." This, he says, will lead to stagnant returns on stocks and bonds and much smaller gains in housing prices.

Mr. Greenspan won plaudits for achieving low inflation and unemployment with just two mild recessions during his tenure at the Fed. But more recently his record has taken some knocks. Some critics fault him for not doing more to restrain the stock bubble of the 1990s, and for responding to its eventual bursting with such low interest rates that housing prices subsequently soared.

Mr. Greenspan writes that in early 1997, he told his colleagues the Fed should raise interest rates as a "preemptive" move against a stock-market bubble. But transcripts of Fed meetings from that period do not support his book's version of events: They show Mr. Greenspan argued for a rate increase principally because of inflation.

    Posted by on Friday, September 14, 2007 at 05:22 PM in Economics, Monetary Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (36)


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    » Greenspan: Communism caused the housing boom! from Willful Blindness

    According to a post on Mark Thomas blog (in a reference to a WSJ article) Greenspan doesnt believe low interest rates spurred the housing market: He attributes the housing boom to the end of communism, which he says unleashed hundreds of... [Read More]

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