254 of 286 people found the following review helpful
Greenspan calls "The Age of Turbulence" a "psychoanalysis of himself." It begins (first half) with his early life, describing the events that provided his learning experiences (including his desire to become a baseball player, then a jazz musician), and then goes to his life of implementing those lessons.
Undoubtedly the most interesting material included Greenspan's evaluations of the Presidents he had worked with. His observations were not the platitudes one might have expected. "Nixon was very smart, paranoid," and was an equal-opportunity disparager of all ethnic groups. Ford was the most normal, and sometimes looked past politics to focus on the ethics of an issue. Reagan's ability to spout seemingless endless one-liners and stories was an "odd form of intelligence," according to Greenspan. Greenspan felt his relationship with Bush I was a disaster, with the President eventually blaming Greenspan for his losing the election to Clinton. Clinton, however, was most like a soul-mate to Greenspan - very intelligent, and one constantly working to soak up knowledge and understanding. Greenspan also labeled Clinton's '93 economic plan that focused on reducing the deficit as an "act of political courage." Finally, Greenspan's assessment of Bush II was that he was incurious about the effects of his own economic policy, and that Greenspan's biggest frustration with Bush II was his failure to veto any spending bills.
Greenspan was told that Bush thought he could better control Speaker Hastert and Whip Delay by signing the spending bills; they, however, were never reticent to spend more money to help assure more Republican congressmen. Greenspan also added that he disagreed with Bush II's supply-side economic thinking, and that his endorsement of "A" tax cut during 2001 was just that - not an endorsement of Bush's plan. Another problem was that the plan had no adjustment mechanism in the event assumptions did not pan out and the deficit began to rear up again.
On the other hand, Greenspan does not tell the whole story. According to Paul Krugman (New York Times, 9/17/07), he could have clarified himself a few weeks later when he appeared before a Senate committee on the same topic and evaded questions on whether the proposed tax cuts were too large. Two years later when more cuts were proposed, Greenspan did not object, and in 2004 he expressed support for making the Bush cuts permanent - accompanied by cuts in Social Security beneifts that he assured Congress in 2001 would not be threatened by the cuts.
The most incendiary comment in the book was clearly Greenspan's conclusion that the Iraq War II was all about oil. However, Greenspan is now "clarifying" his statement to Greenspan having told the White House that removing Saddam was "essential" to secure world oil supplies, and now stating (Washington Post interview, 9/17/07) that securing global oil supplies was "not the administration's motive."
Greenspan was initially elated when Bush II won, and brought in his old friends Cheney and Rumsfeld. However, he noted that "they changed," and that he did not agree with Cheney's "deficit's don't matter." There also seemed to be little value placed on rigorous economic policy debate or weighing long-term policy consequences - policy-making was firmly in the hands of White House staff (Rove, et al). A result was that Bush II's first two Treasury Secretaries (O-Neill, Snow) were essentially powerless. Summarizing, Greenspan saw the Republicans in '04 as having swapped principle for power, ending up with neither, and deserving to lose in '06. The "good news" was that they did not try to interfere with monetary policy.
Greenspan has come under increasing criticism himself for the current housing collapse and preceding bubble. His defense, in "The Age of Turbulence," was that the risk of broadening home ownership was worth the risk, that he didn't realize shady practices had grown so prevalent, and had tried raising mortgage rates in '04 and '05 by hiking rates on ten-year Federal notes (no impact).
Finally, looking to the future, Greenspan sees a need to raise taxes on energy to encourage conservation, and a risk of increased inflation - already prices are rising in China. As for ethanol, even if all U.S. corn was converted to ethanol, it would only provide less than 20% of our current oil usage.
An interesting and timely book!
42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Reaction to Alan Greenspan's much-anticipated memoir will undoubtedly vary widely depending upon the audience. "The Age of Turbulence" is part autobiography of the former Federal Reserve Chairman's professional life and part exposition of his views of the global economy, united by Greenspan's ongoing efforts to understand this new economy that is "vastly more flexible, resilient, open, self-correcting, and fast-changing than it was even a quarter century earlier." The book is written with the curious layperson in mind. In contrast to Fedspeak, Greenspan's style is straightforward and as fluid as it can be considering that he toils in the world of facts and figures. As a primer on the global economy, it is too long but basically good providing you don't take it as gospel.
Greenspan takes us through his Washington Heights childhood, his admiration for the ideas of Adam Smith and Ayn Rand, to his career in macroeconomic forecasting, then through 4 decades in public service, including nearly 19 years as Chairman of the Fed. If you're looking for the rationale behind the Fed lowering the fund rate 3 times in fall 1998, mid-tech stock bubble, or decreasing the rate to 1% in 2003 and leaving it there for a year, precipitating a housing and credit bubble, well....there's not much here. He justifies 1998 with some nebulous notion of a "small by real risk" of global malaise. He justifies 2003 as an urgent effort to avert deflation. That's funny, because if the CPI were calculated by the same method as when Greenspan raised rates to combat inflation in 1987, his first action as Chairman, the inflation rate would have been 4%. By "funny", I mean "disingenuous".
In the second half of the book, Greenspan presents his conclusions about the state of the global economy and its future. He begins with a brief history of capitalism and goes on to discuss, chapter by chapter, the economic successes and challenges of recent decades in Japan, China, India, Russia, and Latin America. He argues for less consternation over the US trade deficit, against protectionism and most regulation, and analyzes the state of Social Security and energy supply and consumption. I found his view of Latin America's "economic populism", which lacks the conceptual framework of socialism, insightful. He is dismissive of Russia's accomplishments under Putin. And he should avoid the subjects of education and workforce skills, as he demonstrates ignorance there.
Alan Greenspan is an articulate and convincing spokesman for market capitalism and globalization. He explains the transition from manufacturing to a service economy in the US in a way that anyone can understand. This is where "The Age of Turbulence" excels. But he is an apologist for free-spending neocons and Boris Yeltsin, of all people. Too much of his analysis is based on understated inflation rates, which he should well know, since he was instrumental in trying to change the way CPI is calculated. I always regarded Greenspan as a smart man, well-intentioned, but dangerously susceptible to political pressures. After reading what he has to say, I think less of him, even though I am generally in agreement with his economic worldview. Bright, educated, but politically naïve and wanting far too much to be liked, Greenspan is too ingratiating and his rationalizations too clumsy in print. After 500 pages of this, I feel it wasn't worth my time.
108 of 135 people found the following review helpful
Greenspan's "The Age of Turbulence" is a tour de force, an incredibly engaging, insightful, and detailed look, not only at the life and history of the most famous economist of the U.S., but of the key economic events that have shaken, molded, and served as the crucible for the global economy of the 21st century. Make no mistake about it: this is a book that will easily become a de facto standard of the genre, and will remain so for years to come.
From the opening pages of Greenspan's introduction we immediately become aware that this book is exceptionally and surprisingly well written, and that Greenspan has somehow managed to coalesce the mountains of knowledge and experiences he has accumulated over some six decades of public life into an imminently accessible and, yes, understandable, text. The book opens up with Greenspan's flight back from Switzerland on 9/11, and the interruption of that flight with the news of what had happened in New York City that day. Greenspan peels back the history and lets us in on his many thoughts as his flight made an emergency return to Zurich, and then, subsequently, during his interactions in the weeks that followed with persons at all levels of the government and the banking system. As he lays out his story, we are introduced to numerous asides which explain to us many aspects of the economic system with which we may not yet fully understand or comprehend, and Greenspan deftly intertwines such didactic content in with these life events in a manner that makes us learn as we go, all the while not even realizing we are being educated as we proceed.
The book proper continues with this approach of mixing personal history with mini-lessons of economics, first starting with his childhood in New York, then moving to his teen and adolescent years, his PhD work, and his eventual move into government service. We read about his childhood fascination with numbers, his studies at Julliard in music, his love of baseball, his skill in conquering huge masses of data wherever he found them, and see in his upbringing the traits that would serve him (and us) so well in his eventual role as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Bank. The book is essentially broken into two parts: the first, in which Greenspan draws us through his own learning path through the years so that we can understand how he came to master individual economic events and systems; and the second, the application of these lessons learned toward attempting to understand what he calls today's new global economy. The sweep of the story is grand, and leaves little left unturned. We are allowed to peer into Greenspan's insights and thinking concerning Black Monday, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Rise of China, the role of Russia in world economics, the dot com bubble and burst, and, of course, the effect of globalization as it was ensconced immediately after World War II and how it appears today. In it, Greenspan not only makes his formidable knowledge of all these subjects known, but he also tells us his beliefs about many of them, and even tries to tell us how he thinks things may look a quarter of a century from now.
Perhaps most interesting in this volume beyond its educational aspects is reading about Greenspan's inner feelings about the various personages and events with which he interacted over the years. His comments about meeting Ayn Raynd, and the impact her thinking played upon his own, are both humorous and honest. His thoughts about Nixon, which he explicates - both good and bad - yield more insight that can be used whenever we study that portion of history. His comments on Ford, Reagan, and Clinton are also quite interesting, and it is a study in personality to see how he contrasts and compares these people as he winds out his story. Its a real "extra" for readers of the Greenspan's story.
A book that is as engaging as it is insightful, "The Age of Turbulence" is truly a "must-read" for nearly anyone interested in financial markets, capitalism, global economics, and the role of U.S. foreign (and domestic) policy. Buy it to learn and to become better educated, but read it to enjoy and savor. I'll bet you'll be as surprised as I at just how truly fascinating the work turns out to be.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2008
I think this book is more about Greenspan's own ego playing on the world stage than it is about the job of the Federal Reserve. His descriptions of working with and insights into the personalities of U.S. Presidents beginning with Richard Nixon are interesting.
However, I got the distinct impression that he disliked doing the nitty gritty work of the Federal Reserve in favor of being known as a player on the world stage. For example, he quickly skims his involvement with the Savings & Loan Crisis in the late 1980's and 90's complaining about how much time he spent "...it was like having a second job..." and minimizing his professional consulting work for Charles Keating and Lincoln Savings & Loan. He had nothing to say about homeowners victimized by S & L's during that period, although one of the primary responsibilities of the Federal Reserve is the protection of the credit rights of consumers (See the Federal Reserve's website). He acknowledges that the domestic economic forecasting work was the result of a highly competent Federal Reserve staff. And the good economic times in the later 1990's were a function of President Clinton's economic astuteness and Pay-Go discipline in the Republican Congress.
I also think he bears more responsibility than he acknowledges for the current mortgage crisis. He happened to terminate in January, 2006 just before the current crisis mushroomed.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2007
This book is very readable. It has the basics on his autobiography. Many paragraphs seem to be misleading or self-serving statements to enhance his prestige. How many can you find in this 505 page book? The fine print in the `Acknowledgments' name those who were part of the collective that wrote this book. [That `just-in-time' system seems designed to benefit air freight and oil consumption (p.6).] Alan Greenspan is wrong to say that President Nixon's gasoline rationing caused gas lines; it was the embargo of imported oil that caused shortages. Alan claims "deregulated financial markets" (p.8) was beneficial. Neutering the Glass-Steagall Act in the 1990s led to the High tech stock swindles that looted many American investors and led to the destruction of jobs and manufacturing. Was that a good thing? The unreliability of financial markets also led to the destruction of the pension system. Page 9 tells how Greenspan's approval of the $100 billion tax cut helped the economy. [Prosperity results when most people have money.] Alan admits his prediction of a second terrorist attack was one of his worst predictions [but doesn't explain the politics of this]. Does Alan really believe our economy depends on being able "to borrow and spend" (p.10)? Surely he jests? What does an economist produce? Soothsaying or special interest pleading?
Alan claims "we are living in a new world", the age of turbulence (p.10). This book is his attempt to understand it (or explain it). The truth is that this new world is the result of political choices made by a ruling class; its not an accident like the weather. Alan claims protectionism "led to a spiraling down of trade" (p.12). No it was the lack of prosperity (money) that caused the Great Depression; the new tariffs were a reaction not a cause. The stock swindles of the 1920s also stole money from most people. Before Nixon's reign only a tiny amount of trade was international, America was more prosperous than in any other decade of the 20th century. Alan shows his sleight-of-hand in discussing China's exploding investments by avoiding telling how it happened. The "central planning" or control of capital that brought this about could not occur where most people had control of businesses and investments (local control equals democracy). Does page 13 say this caused falling interest rates? That means wealth has been greatly and perversely concentrated.
Inflation is caused by fiat money (p.14). The Federal Reserve (a private bank that benefits its investors by taking funds from American citizens) is the main source of inflation since the abandonment of silver and gold standards. [The other cause of inflation is counterfeiting.] Adam Smith's "invisible hand" (p.16) required multitudes of owner-operated businesses not the oligopolies that exist today. Adam Smith was against monopolies like the Federal Reserve, a violation of the Constitution that says only the Government would produce money. Did Adam Smith's "model" fail in the 1930s? No, the growth of large corporations affected the economy; such near total control did not exist in the late 18th century. "Competitive free markets" (p.16) can't exist when large corporations and central bankers create policies to damage small businesses and the people.
Alan shows a bent for philosophizing on the remarkable similarities of people (pp.16-17). Aristotle said "man is a political animal", a set of values guides people. Alan is wrong again to attack "populism", a defense for people "under siege" (p.18) by those who would steal or swindle their wealth and property. Who or what is Alan Greenspan for? The claim "excess government spending causes inflation" does not define "excess" (p.35). Can that happen without devalued money? Knowledge is important for planning production (p.46). Excess inventory causes a recession (p.47). The story of "creative destruction" (p.51) ignores the effects of entrenched mismanagement on corporate decline. The Randitti are confused (p.52). Governments guarantee your life and property and prosecute those who would take either. The costs for this are called taxes. Either you have taxes or a powerful state that owns most property.
The Kennedy tax cut worked by adjusting for a devalued currency and made ordinary people more prosperous. When money was devalued it led to a deteriorating economy (p.55). Urban renewal (p.57) was a scheme to destroy small businesses and neighborhoods in order to create large plots that could be sold to large corporations. This eminent domain continues to this day. Were Nixon and Clinton the "smartest presidents" (p.58)? Both were impeached. Did Nixon have a split personality (p.59)? "He hated everybody." Inflation and higher taxes take money from the people and this caused a recession (pp.60-61). A tax rebate to the public can correct a recession (p.68). The discussion on page 69 tells about central planning. Was the soaring inflation of the late 1970s caused by the big bank's acceptance of petrodollars alone (p.84)? The 1980s recession was planned by the Federal Reserve (p.85). What is the difference between a recession and a depression (p.87)? Reagan couldn't handle facts, he called that "overbriefed" (p.89). Again, the cure for stagnation was to make Americans more prosperous with a tax cut (p.92). Alan makes another misstatement on page 98 about employers paying the payroll tax; the employee pays for it all. Read "Schedule SE".
I know a person who immigrated from Poland and hears from relatives there. Alan talks as if the end of price controls led to success and happiness there (p.133). The fact is people there are suffering the worst years of their lives since the end of WW II. How can Alan make such a ridiculous statement as "private property is sinful" (p.140)? The question of usury ("lending at interest") involves distinguishing between money itself and ownership of a share in an enterprise. What about bankruptcy? The story about the Enlightenment changing this view overlooks the activities of the Medici and others in the 15th century. [The many mistakes suggest this book was written by others.]
Chapter 17 ignores the improved economy in South America in the 1930s, or the military coups that followed the "Alliance for Progress" in the 1960s. Alan is wrong to ignore the protectionism before WW I (Chapter 17). There were protectionist tariffs from the Civil War (p.366). Alan wants more government involvement against fraud (p.375). If all those new workers "put a brake on price increases" why are prices going up (p.383)? Would a younger Alan have welcomed immigrants who were economists (p.407)?
Chapter 22 has Alan's attack on Social Security. His says workers should save more (p.417). This could reduce the economy's growth rate (p.416). The shortfall in Social Security funding is caused by reduced wages. This results in higher profits so the correct solution is to add payroll taxes to long-term capital gains (until the shortfall ends). The real problem with defined-benefit pensions (p.419) is the dismantling of New Deal regulations; this allowed those High-Tech stock swindles. Companies can no longer make long-term investments to pay for pensions. Social Security remains the life preserver. If big corporations can't make safe investments for pensions, what chance will a lone worker have?
117 of 158 people found the following review helpful
Borrowing from a famous investment banking commercial, "when Alan Greenspan talks, people listen". And that's how this book should be approached. This one man, not a president, has had more to do with the everyday life of Americans aged 65 and under than anyone else. Crisis after crisis has been thrown at us and he has deftly defended our economy. It would have been interesting to see how he would have handled the Volker era of high interest rates in the late 70s/early 80s.
So let's get to the most controversial area of the book, did he leave interest rates too low too long after 9/11, and should he have attacked subprime lenders? Hindsight builds confidence in critics but our economy did not falter and he builds a compelling case that following the info he had, keeping us from a recession was the most important point. As to housing bubble caused by low interest rates and poor lending practices, it is a compelling case that worries of deflation and how Japan lost control of this in the 80's/90's was significant to the Fed's policy. Should subprime lending have been stopped or slowed? Without a question. But is it the job of the Fed? Greenspan will continue to catch criticism but it is not part of the role of the Fed IMO. The system worked. I-Bankers stretched lending more and more to generate bonds which hedge funds then bought the riskiest tranches. That is where the losses are. That plus the marginal borrowers who should not have been in the loans.
What this book does a great job of is giving you insight into the workings of the finance of our govt. for the past 40 years. Reading in the 60s with no computers how the field of economics evolved from hand calculating massive data is hard to believe in today's computer world. The chronological review of his involvement is nothing short of fascinating. Generally, he confirms what has been reported of all the Presidents: Nixon - extremely intelligent with a dark side, Ford - a consensus builder, the lost art in today's politics, Reagan - not much interaction but a guy that knew what he wanted to accomplish and did it with a story, Bush I - the relationship soured based on interest rates but great respect for the man. And that leaves us with last two, Clinton and Bush II. There is no reason for him to like Clinton, different parties, different influences, etc. But Clinton won over Greenspan by focusing on the difficult political agenda of lowering the deficit. This is difficult as it does not have immediate impact to the constituents. Bush II was from the same party and Greenspan agreed to Bush's initial tax cuts. How could their relationship sour? Well, budget deficits returned and Bush maintained total economic interest in cutting taxes whether it was the right thing to do or not. I voted for Bush twice but Greenspan's narrative is subtly scathing.
From this fascinating financial history covering the first 248 pages the book transcends to an open discussion of economic theory and case studies of virtually all other major countries and his feelings of their economic issues. This part of the book is also exceptional but does read slower. It's two different books. If this is not your cup of tea, then stop at page 248.
In closing, I would suggest readers leave their political leanings out of the book and explore the man behind the critical decisions of the last 25 or so years and how it impacted your life. That is the critical issue and importance of the book. Overall, this is one of the most significant books I have read in my life, a must read for Americans enjoying our economy for the last 20 years or those wanting to learn about how our economy and government work. Should be required reading in college economics.
SIDEBAR: Two years ago I attended a Washington Redskins game in a box of a minority owner. Sitting next to me but on the other side of glass was Greenspan in Daniel Snyder's box. There was no person I would have rather met just to deliver the message of thanks for leading our economy brilliantly in a fascinating time!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2008
I actually love this book. I ordered it in hardcover first and then cancelled it and ordered it on CD figuring I would be able to get to it much quicker as an audio read in the car. My intention was correct and the content of this book is definitely worth reading. However, the audio is so uneven, especially after the biographical chapters, that it is completely distracting. I found myself having to rewind several times to get past the changes in the narrator's sound and inflection. This occurs more often in the midst of chapters and tracks than in chapter breaks. I wasn't overall crazy about the narrator, but, I believe this has more to do with the editing and producing of the disk. The narrator probably read some passages more than once and they spliced together the "best" takes. It's horrible. Do yourself a favor and read the printed version. I would give that four stars on content alone. It might have been interesting to hear Greenspan's own voice as I believe the narrator wasn't always in understanding of the text.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
When you're just a fifth of the way into the book and Alan Greenspan is already appointed Federal Reserve Chairman at the youthful age of 61, you realize `Age of Turbulence' is not entirely or even mostly an autobiography of Alan Greenspan but then again, he makes this clear on the back of the book. So if you're looking for a touchy feely introspective story of how abandonment by a young boy's father affected the worldview of someone who is to one day become powerful, read either Clarence Thomas's memoir (which is very good), or hope that Greenspan comes out with a sequel.
The first half of the book is a history of the past 25 years of the United States written from the perspective of the man who held the longest tenure managing the most powerful branch of government. Whereas the original three branches deal with the formation, interpretation and execution of laws, the relatively new fourth branch, the Federal Reserve, despite not a word of it mentioned in the Constitution, is responsible for directing the economy. Amazing! And let's face it; the economy is the only part of society that counts. After all, isn't money the number one thing couples fight over?
Greenspan comes across sincerely benevolent in his stewardship over America's financial life. He talks with pride how he and his Federal Reserve team waved their invisible (or is it translucent?) hand over our free society during major economic moments of recent memory: Black Monday, early 90s recession, Dot Boom, early 00s recession, housing boom (wait, is there a pattern here?)
In the book's second half, Greenspan forecasts the state of the world economy. Among the topics in this section are China, Russia, perspectives on free markets, and education.
Greenspan doesn't drop any real bombshells. Most conservatives won't be surprised by what he says about George Bush and the Republicans in Congress. Overall this is a pleasant read though some might be put off by his occasional use of economic jargon. It's not difficult but a Wall Street type will likely have an easier time digesting the book. If someone wants a glimpse inside the Federal Reserve as well as the reasoning and perspectives of one of America's most influential economist's then this is the book for you.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2008
Back in the heyday of the first radical-libertarian ideological surge--I place it at two years plus or minus of my own personal awareness, in 1970, of the publication of Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (©1966)--the Ayn Rand Objectivist machinery was running at full-tilt boogie. Also in 1966, a series of columns from her monthly newsletter, The Objectivist, was published under the title Capitalism the Unknown Ideal. In that book were three articles by Alan Greenspan:
"Gold and Economic Freedom"--fiat money systems, i.e. money systems such as our Federal Reserve not based on gold or other valuable commodities, inherently rob citizens of real wealth and yield unconscionable power to the state.
Then he betrayed his convictions.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2007
Hindsight is always 20-20 and Mr. Greenspan has at least 20-15 in some occasions when discussing his work. Those who have benefitted from the real estate and tech boom consider him the Nostradamus of his time and those who did not, Beelzebub. This is an interesting insight into a fascinating life. I am listening to it now on audio book and find it a compelling distraction from DC traffic albeit an annoying foray into DC lunacy. Probably not wholly accurate but it is his take, he is not a journalist like his wife, but an observer into an exciting life- his own
Narrator is only average but I think it might be the editing. Sometime the tonality of his voice changes in mid-sentence and you can tell when he is starting to become fatigued. I love fiction audio books that can be more fanciful. Sometimes non-fiction is a little tough on the ears and this editing leaves something to be desired.