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April 24, 2005

Alan Greenspan: Maestro or Hack?

[First of all, an apology to all for falling down on my guest-blogging duties today. It was just one of those warm spring days made for walking the ol' faithful schnauzer in the dappled shade, watching baseball, eating chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven...you get the picture. But now it's time for one last post while I'm still hogging Ezra's eyeball, as it were.]

Alan Greenspan. Maestro? or Hack?

On the face of it, this seems like a ridiculous question. Don't I remember his hacktacular green-lighting of the Bush tax-cuts in 2001? Surely his belated and weaselly admission that <i>maybe</i> mistakes were made and taxes should go up after all shouldn't absolve him (though DeLong cuts him some slack) of his disingenuously cryptic approval back in 2001. Isn't he trying to eat his cake and have it -- to push through the tax cuts on one hand, <i>and</i> escape blame for the consequences on the other?

...Greenspan had warned then in congressional testimony that the forecast might be wrong and he recommended some 'trigger' mechanism that would limit the tax cuts if certain budget targets were not met. Greenspan said he thinks 'it's frankly unfair' for critics to blame him now for the fact that the Congress chose to 'read half [his] testimony and discard the rest.'

He surely knew that Bush's rational for the tax cuts were bunk, especially given the way they were distributed and structured. But he gave his stamp of approval for them anyhow, while making sure his testimonies are well-larded with qualifiers he can point to later when the shit is about to hit the fan (i.e., now. <i>Gulp</i>). Hack.

And yet...

The reign of a Fed chairman is long. It is my belief once upon a time, all the way back in the Clinton days, Alan Greenspan did his job admirably well. Now, I wasn't exactly paying attention to the intricacies of central banking back then (being more absorbed with old movies and [ack!] country music) so I can't do any play-by-play analysis of his performance. But the impression I've got is that he was a voice of prudence and an enormously stabilizing force on the markets. He convinced Clinton to raise payroll taxes to prepare Social Security for the onslaught of retiring baby boomers (oh, the irony.) He even provided the cover Clinton needed to push tax increases through Congress, and thus he was arguably responsible for the very surpluses he helped Bush squander (double irony sundae with cherry on top.)

It's too soon to tell whether history will remember the Greenspan that aided Clinton in his efforts to forge a new brand of liberal-flavored fiscal conservatism, or the Greenspan that abetted Bush in plunging the this country back into the black hole of deficits. But prehaps what he <i>should</i> be is a cautionary tale. With the title of "Chairman of the Federal  Reserve" comes enormous power. Perhaps too much power for one human to wield responsibly. The temptation to abuse that power in the service of one's ideology is hard enough when one's enemy is in power. It might be well nigh impossible to resist when one is in a position to help friends.

-- Battlepanda, signing off. It's been fun, folks.

April 24, 2005 | Permalink

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Social Security taxes were raised during the Reagan administration not the Clinton administration. Greenspan pushed this on the democratic congress as a way to save social security, and then turned around and supported the tax cut which used the social security surplus. He is a hack.

Posted by: judy | Apr 24, 2005 9:08:10 PM

In Clinton's last year, a recession was forming and yet Greenspan refused to lower interest rates, month after month.

When Bush got in and the recession was a done deal he started on a crash campaign of lowering rates. If he had done this the previous year, when even I, a non-professional knew that was what was needed, the recession may never have materialized.

But then the economy would have been in great shape for the 2000 election and we know why he didn't want that.

Not only is he a hack, he is a traitor to the American people.

Posted by: mpower1952 | Apr 24, 2005 10:19:07 PM

It should also be noted that in all likelyhood, Greenspan's rationale for pushing Clinton to pay down the debt was to force the Dems to relinquish increases in funding for social programs and other infrastructure building programs. Clinton obediently jumped on board and held down virtually all spending on programs like education. So Greenspan effectively got the Dems to shoot their own base in the foot while storing up a surplus (or perhaps more accurately slowing the increase in the debt)to be squandered by the Repubs on their agenda, namely, eliminating much of the entire tax burden on the wealthiest and shoving it onto the middle class. Then there's that payroll hike he pushed through decades ago. It has produced a 2 trillion dollar surplus in the SS trust fund. Now we find ourselves facing a 2+trillion dollar shortfall thanks to G.W.'s "no billionaire left behind" plicies and Greenspan is saying the trust fund is bust and benefits need to be cut. In short, Greenspan's just another of the Right's plutocrat's pining for the day when all the money will be thiers and not just 99.8% of it.

Suggested reading

Posted by: Bill L. | Apr 25, 2005 2:09:35 AM

It was just one of those warm spring days

we had and continue to have snow here in athens. such are the travails of mother nature

Posted by: almostinfamous | Apr 25, 2005 2:41:56 AM

Ack! The spring sunshine must have addled my brain...

Grrr. I knew that the payroll hike was in '83...but I think he wanted to raise them again during the Clinton years and that was where I got confused.


Did the suggested reading, and am appropriately humbled. Yup. Alan Greenspan. Hack to the core. So, the post was dumb. But if I didn't write it, I wouldn't have benefitted from y'all's comment smackdown and will probably go on sprouting the line that Alan Greenspan was actually good until Bush came into office, and thus embarrassing myself terribly for years to come.


Posted by: Battlepanda | Apr 25, 2005 10:25:39 AM

In case anyone is interested, full mea culpa here.

Posted by: Battlepanda | Apr 25, 2005 11:25:25 AM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 7:25:37 AM

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