I read the review of Alan Greenspan’s book 2 years back in The Economist, but didn’t buy it until late last year when I went on a book-shopping spree. The book gone on to stay on my book table (yes, I seriously need a bookshelf) for another year or so before I dusted it two weeks ago and began reading it. In any case, I bought an updated version, which features an epilogue detailing Alan Greenspan’s take on the Subprime Financial Crisis and his prescriptions.
I was immediately surprised by Alan Greenspan’s clear writing and simple style so contrary to his famous inscrutable public announcements about the Fed. It is this that earned The Economist’s rare praise:
Sub-heading of the book review: “Not many surprises in this memoir-cum-essay except that it is an unexpectedly enjoyable read.”
Book Review Quote: “[D]espite everything, the book turns out to be first-rate. It engages on different levels: it is intelligent in a way that few popular books on economics manage or even try to be; and, wonder of wonders, it is a good read.”
The book begins as a memoir, detailing Greenspan’s childhood, interest in music, schooling, economic/technical inclinations and his long career in the Federal Reserve Bank where he was Mr Chairman. His memoir ends somewhat abruptly in retrospect at the eleventh chapter, The Nation Challenged. Beginning with the chapter, The Universals of Economic Growth, he went on with his economy essays and analysis of various economies, industries and trends. Like what The Economist says, Age of Turbulence is a good read, his memoir was very neutral and he was very humble about his work at the Fed. His accounts of the workings of the Fed provides non-American readers a good starting point to learn about their system. Greenspan’s essays on the world economy and economics stays faithful to his belief in the power of free markets and respect for the freedoms and rights that the American Founding Fathers have sought and preserved.
He defends his views that no one can possibly identify a bubble and actively sought to burst it before it gets too big and cause a crisis in its subsequent burst. As a matter of fact, this is the case because anyone who can confidently identify the bubble can profit from it by going against the flow and thus end up defusing it before it builds up. At times, when the so-called ‘irrational exuberance’ exerts too powerful a market force then regulators wouldn’t actually be able to defuse it anyways. He seem to sigh at the voter’s expectations that the government is almighty and is disappointed by typical politicians who doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of ‘trade-offs’. These are typical economist’s perennial concerns about the world in democracies that never seem they’ll ever go away.
As a pragmatist, Greenspan shows great appreciation for the rule of law that has maintained the workings of the market and fostered a culture of trust so essential to capitalism. And reflecting on that, Greenspan gives suggestions on how the emerging economies need to improve their governance and legal systems to catch up with their prosperity and march towards developed status. These are valuable insights gained from Greenspan’s 19 years of being the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. Indeed, Greenspan confesses that he knows little about international economics until he took on this role since his work at Townsend-Greenspan & Company (which closed following his nomination to that post) deals little with the economies of other nations.
Overall, Age of Turbulence provides wonderful insights into workings of the capitalist system of America and great ideas about emerging economies, the direction the world economy is heading to – knowledge significant to any economics students and economist-wannabe.