In eight Tuesdays each year, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan convenes a small committee to set the short-term interest rate that can move through the American and world economies like an electric jolt. As much as any, the committee's actions determine the economic well-being of every American. The availability of money for business or consumer loans, mortgages, job creation and overall national economic growth flows from those decisions. Perhaps the last Washington secret is how the Federal Reserve and its enigmatic chairman, Alan Greenspan, operate. In Maestro, Bob Woodward takes you inside the Fed and Greenspan's thinking. We listen to the Fed's internal debates as the American economy is pushed into a historic 10-year expansion while the world economy lurches from financial crisis to financial crisis. Greenspan plays a sometimes subtle, sometimes blunt behind-the-scenes role. He appears in Maestro up close as never before -- alternately nervous and calm, plunging into mathematics one moment and politics the next, skeptical, dispassionate, always struggling -- often alone.
Maestro traces a fascinating intellectual journey as Greenspan, an old-school anti-inflation hawk of the traditional economy, is among the first to realize the potential in the modern, high-productivity new economy -- the foundation of the current American boom. Woodward's account of the Greenspan years is a remarkable portrait of a man who has become the symbol of American economic preeminence.
Either Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan has had an amazingly long run of remarkably good luck, or he knows what he's doing and really is what most observers believe him to be, the maestro of the rock-solid prospering American economy. Washington Post reporter Woodward of Watergate fame attempts to write an incisive biography, and yet Greenspan remains an elusive and enigmatic figure. Early in his adulthood he was a devotee of Ayn Rand and once briefly attended Juilliard; he is famed for his elliptical language, and if he gets too explicit, the market strengthens or weakens depending on the direction of his words. Descriptions of such behavior are presented by the author, but, unfortunately for listening excitement, Greenspan is neither flamboyant nor given to spectacular intrigue. Much of the book, of course, deals with meetings of the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee which makes headlines whenever it raises or lowers an interest rate. The chairman is evidently very good at prodding, cajoling, and just plain reasoning with the Board of Governors until most of them see things his way. James Naughton has a grave, matter-of-fact approach, and it is always nice to hear the recognizable voice of Woodward himself as he closes the presentation. Recommended for collections dealing with modern politics and financial institutions. Don Wismer, Cary Memorial Lib., Wayne, ME Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
November 01, 2001
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Excerpt from Maestro by Bob Woodward
(Oct. 27, '00)
Get some Democrats on the Fed, President Clinton instructed his economic advisers in early 1994. The entire Federal Reserve Board of Governors was made up of Reagan and Bush appointees, but now Clinton had a chance to name two governors to the seven-member board, his first Fed appointments. With interest rates rising, he wanted Treasury and the White House staff to move fast. The instructions weren't quite "Sink Greenspan," but the president wanted some counterweight to the Fed's Republican chairman, Alan Greenspan.
The search began for two academic economists who were Democrats and who would be at least sympathetic to Clinton's overall economic policies.
Robert Rubin, the director of the National Economic Council, sought out Alan Blinder, the deputy on the president's Council of Economic Advisers, one of his allies in the White House.
How about being the Fed vice chairman? Rubin asked.
Blinder, 48, was a tall, thin, balding Princeton economics professor on leave. He wore thick glasses and had the uneasy erudition of many professors, but he also had a sense of humor that demonstrated he knew how dry and pedantic economics could be.
Blinder kept one foot in the traditional mainstream liberalism that looked out for those on the bottom of the economic ladder, but he was a Democrat who didn't use the class-warfare rhetoric Rubin detested. In Rubin's view, Blinder was just about the right mix.