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Maestro : Greenspan's Fed and the American Boom

Maestro : Greenspan's Fed and the American Boom


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Bob Woodward called his biography of Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan Maestro for two reasons. First, Greenspan is a musician. He started out as a Julliard-trained jazz sax man. "He wasn't a good improviser," Woodward reports. And while the other guys got stoned all night, Greenspan "read economics and business books and eventually became the band's bookkeeper." He also cultivated powerful pals, like Ayn Rand, whose coterie dubbed the dour young man "The Undertaker." More profoundly, Greenspan is a maestro, a conductor, exquisitely attuned to every instrument in the political and economic orchestra. He rules by consensus, but with a firm hand and notoriously inscrutable words. Marvelously, Woodward relates that Greenspan had to propose twice to his wife, the violinist-turned-TV news star Andrea Mitchell, before she understood: "His verbal obscurity and caution were so ingrained that Mitchell didn't even know that he had asked her to marry him." Woodward gives us the inside story of what Greenspan really thinks and how he outmaneuvered the most ruthless politicians on earth in some of the hairiest times imaginable, from the 1987 stock market crash to the 1994-95 Mexican crisis to the stomach-churning turn of the century. It turns out that for all his awesome knowledge of monetary minutiae, the Fed chief literally relies on "a pain in the pit of my stomach" to make decisions. "At times, he found his body sensed danger before his head," writes Woodward. The Fed chief also adapts Einstein's technique to economics, hunting for discrepancies as keys to deeper theories. Einstein made breakthroughs out of bent light; Greenspan deduced productivity gains that government statisticians had overlooked for years. (The gains appeared when Greenspan made the statisticians calculate productivity by business sector, the way it's done in the real world.) Woodward's prose is cool and rational, not exuberant. But if you're into economics and politics, you'll find a rich gossip trove here. Who knew Reagan had a draft of a presidential order to shut down Wall Street trading at hand in 1987? Scary! Reading Maestro is better than sitting with Greenspan in his famous tub as he charts your future--it's like being right there inside his head. --Tim Appelo

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A human view of a superhuman

I just finished Bob Woodward's latest book, Maestro. It is an account of Alan Greenspan's Chairmanship of the Federal Reserve Board. Overall a well written work, it dwells mostly on the inner workings of the FOMC. It also delves into the relationship between the Fed and the executive branch of the government. Accounts of the tensions between Greenspan and various Presidents over the direction of interest rate directives provides for some of the most interesting reading. Also of note is Woodward's account of the Fed's role in various financial crises, particularly Mexico in 1995 and Long Term Capital Management in the summer of 1998. All in all the book offers valuable insight into the workings of the U.S. and world capital markets but does not express those insights in overly complex terms. One of the most important parts of the entire book is not actually in the book - it is instead in the epilogue. As he builds toward his conclusion on Greenspan's place in the present and in history, Woodward remarks that, "Greenspan stands at the crossroads of optimism and pessimism. Each of us is a character in the nation's great economic soap opera; Greenspan is both director and producer." This is a significant observation, for it forces us to acknowledge that our economic realities center not only on laws of supply and demand but also on emotions. Human emotions, at times subject to nothing more than unbridled fear or fervor. It is perhaps the simplest and most powerful realization any of us could reach - and one of the most laborious. Bob Woodward deserves our thanks for his masterful telling of the highs and lows of the economy and the apparent stoicism of Greenspan in dealing with them. Maestro is a profile of a pivotal figure in history. More than that, however, it challenges its readers to step into the shoes of the man who moves markets, leaving them with the distinct impression that he is often as unsure as anybody else (or ar least as unsure as any of his colleagues at the Fed). His attention to detail, coupled with an uncanny intuition for the nature of business gives him the courage to make difficult choices despite this uncertainty. Therein lies his genius.

One Very Good Reason NOT To Be The Next President

I thought it was never going to happen after reading a series of books about Alan Greenspan and The Federal Reserve. Prior books seemed to have had as their goal convincing any reader that a PHD in Pure Math was required to understand The Federal Reserve. Those who felt readers needed to have the English Language explained to them authored a book I recently reviewed. Just as I believe there are literally millions of Americans who have learned more about The Electoral College in the last 10 days than they did during how ever many years of school they attended, anyone who reads this book will find that The Federal Reserve while far from a simple agency performing simple tasks, it is understandable to anyone who has an interest in learning.Mr. Bob Woodward has assembled a highly readable book, together with a brief index of terms, which makes this work invaluable. This would be so at any point in our History. But as we now have more Families and individuals whose finances are directly related to the financial markets, the book is important for everyone to read.During the campaigns the voters are warned/scared into thinking of the evil that will befall them if a given Candidate becomes President, and appoints Supreme Court Justices. The congress that will assemble in January is so balanced, especially the Senate, that no matter who eventually wins, what was an election and now is a disgrace, is not going to get any judges confirmed that are at either end of Constitutional Interpretation.But what of The Chairman Of The Federal Reserve? Mr. Greenspan is currently in the midst of a remarkable 4th term as Chairman, and many would argue a Chairman whose performance has been unprecedented. At 74 years of age how much longer will he want this position? He comments that having the job "is like eating peanuts" in that a person cannot stop, and I hope he does not. However I don't believe immortality is amongst his skills, and whoever is President when he ceases to be The Chairman, is going to have a huge problem.Mr. Woodward explains why this is so by using some of the very public, and some not so public events/crises that any reader will have knowledge of, if not all, then some of the events he describes. October 1987 is familiar, it also moved into the background rather quickly for such an event. This book will rewrite those days of 1987, and explain just how close to a true financial disaster it was. After you read what went on to restore the markets, you will be pleased that firstly, you didn't know how bad it really was, and secondly, that Mr. Greenspan was at the helm.Other events that are reviewed are, Mexico's idea of running an economy, and the US Bankers that lent your money to the Country, and how that situation was delicately finessed. The LTCM near disaster, while perhaps not as familiar to some, lays bare the wonderful world of arbitrage. For it is here that 5 cents gets you a dollar, winning is spectacular, and the consequences of losing are alm

Unconventional Wisdom Triumphs in Unconventional Times

I am quite taken with this book, which at 234 pages is "just right" and well crafted and edited to tell an important story. This is a story about applied intelligence in the finest sense of the word. It is a story about a man well-versed in traditional economic research, traditional models, traditional assumptions about the marketplace, who was put into the most important position in the global financial system at just the right time. His intuition allowed him to detect unexplained changes in productivity and to direct new lines of research that helped persuade more conventional authorities to follow his strategy. This is also a story about a uniquely successful partnership between a Republican central banker and a Democratic President-the very heart of the story centers around Greenspan's ability to persuade a very smart President that deficit reduction was the critical ingredient for a long-term restoration of American prosperity. Aided by an equally smart Secretary of the Treasury, Rubin, it was the President's initiative to reduce the deficit by over $140 billion dollars that allowed all else to follow. There is a clear message here for those who would reduce taxes before finishing the job of eliminating the deficit. As a professional intelligence officer, I am very very impressed by the author's recounting of how Greenspan actually "does" the job of intelligence collection and analysis at his level-the Central Intelligence Agency could learn a great deal from this man. The integration of constant (every fifteen minutes) monitoring of key indicators, the preparation of detailed research and statistics reports, and-by far the most important element-the continuous cycle of direct telephone calls and personal meetings across all sectors of the economy and around the globe, define what must be the most efficient and effective and valuable directed intelligence operation in the world-and one that does not steal the information it needs! There are a number of observations throughout the book that are helpful at a strategic level: 1) deficit reduction is the single best thing any President can do-that enables the Fed to be effective; 2) we forget so quickly how desperate the American economy was in the late 1980's-in a volatile world it would be all too easy to enter a recession or have a major financial panic; 3) structured decision-making is extremely dependent on the models and the data-Greenspan's place in history is assured because he had the intellect and the patience and the gut instincts to realize that the data was incomplete or too aggregated and the modeling assumptions were dated and no longer sufficient to plot the course of the new economy; 4) the psychology of the marketplace is at least as important as the reality, and is likely to be hurt by loose-cannon White House elements with good intentions but out of bounds; 5) even the so-called best and brightest in any Presidential administration will categorize new ideas they do

Don't slam it until you've read it

You have to wonder about folks who slam a book without reading it based on personal ideology alone. Regardless of ideology, Woodward reveals the workings of the Federal Reserve in a way which does not require a degree in economics. While the nation is riveted on a partisan struggle for control of the presidency, it is fascinating to understand the degree to which this agency affects our economy and our lives. Woodward decodes the system for the lay reader, revealing the power of the Fed and Greenspans significant power within.

Secrets of the Temple, continued

If you want to put this long awaited work by Bob Woodward in proper context, sequence, and prespective, I highly recommend Fed nuts first reading "Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs The Country", by William Greider, long time editor & journalist of the Washington Post. In modern times, William Greider's work is akin to that of the Old Testament, Moses, and Paul Volker years (1989-1987) switch to Monetarism Policy during Carter's last year in office in the Fed's renewed war on inflation, and Woodward's work could be considered the New Testament with Alan Greenspan's coming when the war on inflation had already been won, 1987 - present. Both Greider & Woodward are superb writers.

Edition Details

Publisher:Simon & Schuster
Lowest Price:$3.79
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