Martin Mayer's engaging examination of the much-talked-about but little understood U.S. Federal Reserve begins with the dramatic events of October 1998, a month in which the market closed "lock limit down" for the first time in almost a decade. At the same time, Alan Greenspan, the Fed's chairman, began radically reinventing his agency's role and its influence on the market. Indeed, while most of the rest of the world's countries were diminishing the role of their central banks, Congress was granting new powers and responsibilities to the Fed. Mayer's book--part history, part journalistic report, and all detailed analysis--looks at the significance of those powers, their benefits and risks, and what they mean to the markets. He also devotes chapters to the day-to-day inner workings of the Fed, its influence in international financial matters, and its possible role in coming years.
As a prolific author and respected economics scholar, Mayer has been immersed in the financial world for decades and provides both bird's-eye and long-range views of money's complicated maneuverings. Without his excellent storytelling abilities and fluid writing style, this book would be heavy going for anyone who doesn't speak the language of high finance. Though it is most definitely dense (and its structure somewhat erratic), Mayer manages to make a complicated subject accessible for those with more interest than actual knowledge. An informative look at a hitherto enigmatic but influential institution. --S. Ketchum
From Publishers Weekly
To most investors, the Fed is one person Chairman Alan Greenspan whose job is to set interest rates. In this entertaining and enlightening account, popular financial journalist Mayer (The Bankers; The Greatest-Ever Bank Robbery) traces the evolution of the Federal Reserve from a sleepy regulatory agency to the most powerful economic institution in the world. Created in 1913, the Fed was designed to regulate banks in an era when they, and not the government, were assumed to control the economy; interest-rate setting was only a minor part of the agency's job. With the rise of a global economy in which individual banks no longer wield their former influence, the Fed has completely reinvented itself. Mayer, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal, tells of turf battles with the Treasury Department and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, in addition to conflicts with bankers and foreign institutions. Although his tale involves extensive discussion of topics like check clearing, reserve assets and regulatory accounting, and most of the protagonists are staid, Mayer livens things up with irreverent character sketches, flamboyant prose (considering the subject matter) and canny storytelling. At the same time, he presents the historical and economic details accurately. (June Forecast: Written with the verve of a Vanity Fair magazine article, and supported by a 20-city radio satellite tour, this very topical book should attract fans of Mayer's previous books, in addition to investors who wish to make sense of the Fed's role in the market.
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