Wednesday, September 19, 2007

An Evening with Alan Greenspan

* At the outset, let me give proper credit for this photograph -- it was taken by a staff photographer for the Daily Colonial, the school newspaper for George Washington University in Washington. I hadn't realized in advance that cameras were allowed (I would have had mine with me, were that the case), and the two pictures I took with my camera phone were absolutely horrid.

So here it was, 7:00 on a Wednesday evening, and I was doing something I never would have expected myself to do: attending a talk given by an economist, moderated by another economist. Of course, Alan Greenspan is no normal economist; he is the face of the fiscal successes and pitfalls this country has experienced for nearly half my life. I don't think that under normal circumstances I would have even considered attending this event, but the sheer volume of commentary elicited by the release of Greenspan's new book, The Age of Turbulence, gave me a lot of incentive to get a ticket a few days ago and crowd into the Lisner Auditorium at GWU (along with what appeared to be quite a few hundred other people who ranged from Administration and government officials to economics students and the just generally curious).

For someone who didn't pay much attention during his one college course in macroeconomics (doing enough to get a B in the class), the Greenspan event was half interesting to me -- the half where he discussed his life, career, and the presidents and other high-profile officials with whom he has interacted during his life. The moderator, Daniel Yergin (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, was much more interested (for obvious reasons) in Greenspan's thoughts on various aspects of American economic policies of the past 20 years and on the current fiscal situation, but he focused so much on this that he neglected to ask (with one exception) any of the questions submitted by the audience. In fact, to be such a "numbers guy," Yergin isn't good at telling time -- he said at the outset that he was going to discuss some background with Greenspan for 25 minutes (he ran for an hour) and then move to audience questions (which he didn't reach until he thought there were 15 minutes left in the discussion -- and then ran on for another 45 without asking them). Of course, when Yergin is commanding $40,000 in fees per appearance (according to his entry on Wikipedia), you can do whatever you want. As an aside, when you combine Greenspan's fee to Yergin's, you can see how much the sponsors put out to bring this event together.

Greenspan is definitely an economist's economist -- someone who said he spent his spare time as a 17-year saxophonist in a big band reading economics books, and who has his morning coffee while reading economic forecasts and global production reports -- and he definitely got more into the conversation when discussing interest rate changes and production numbers. I found his discussion of the presidents with whom he has worked over the years interesting, as well as his background and the brief amount of time he spent discussing his friendship with Ayn Rand. He also held to his longstanding view that he will not comment on current Federal Reserve policy -- and each time Yergin asked him a question about Bernanke and recent moves, Greenspan would smile and say, "No."

I was intrigued to hear what he had to say about the comment he made that the current war in Iraq was "a war about oil." That topic did come up, and the statement makes more sense when put in the context he gave. I tried to reconstruct his answer here (which I've shared on a friend's blog and on a message board to which I belong): He fully agreed that removing Hussein from power was the right thing to do, and that it was in fact all about oil. However, it's not about our control of the oil; for many years, Greenspan saw everything that Hussein was doing as a way of consolidating power and so that, ultimately, he would be in a position to make a grab for control of the entire Middle Eastern oil supply. Had that taken place, Greenspan said that oil could have easily gone to $150 or $160 per barrel, which would have had devastating consequences on the global economy. Removing Hussein was the only way to alleviate that economic concern, and so his thought that "it was all about oil" was from a global perspective. As far as the aftermath of the invasion and removal of Hussein, however, he's got big problems with the way the Administration has managed things.

All in all, it was an interesting and entertaining evening; after leaving, I even stood with a small crowd of people outside the auditorium and watched as he signed a few books and posed for photos with some overly-enthusiastic (and nattily dressed) students who looked like they were fresh out of high school and acted like Greenspan was their god. I'm glad I went, and look forward to reading his book (a signed copy of which came with the purchase of my ticket).

If anyone is interested in seeing this appearance, C-Span 2 will be running it over the next few days, and C-Span will be posting the video on their website as well. You can check it out here.


rdl said...

Thanks, I've been hearing and worrying alot about all this lately.

Kansas Bob said...

I saw Greenspan interviewed on 60 minutes and The Today Show ... really interesting stuff. Guess we all suspected that the Iraqi invasion was about oil ... nice to have someone like Greenspan validate those suspicions ... just wish that the administration would be above board about this.

I agree with what Ron Paul said about the invasion:

"The war in Iraq was sold to us with false information. The area is more dangerous now than when we entered it. We destroyed a regime hated by our direct enemies, the jihadists, and created thousands of new recruits for them."

I have had many disagreements with Bush-conservatives over this with little admission that the war was a mistake and the plan to "stay the course" is no plan at all. It is the reason that many conservatives may cross the aisle next year in November.

Back to the post ... wish I could have been there ... sounds like a gret night Matt!

Blessings, Bob

ipanema said...

i really envy you for having that chance to be part of this. :)