By James Kwak
Alan Greenspan is just as maddening in his retirement as he was during his nineteen-year reign over the global economy. Today in his appearance before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (extensive coverage by Shahien Nasiripour and Ryan McCarthy here), Greenspan seems primarily concerned with passing the buck and preserving the remaining shreds of his legacy, a pathetic quest epitomized in his “I was right 70 percent of the time” remark. At the same time, however, he does make some very blunt statements about the financial industry and financial regulation that policymakers should ignore at their peril. (I’m not saying that because Greenspan was wrong before, he must be right now; I’m saying that when the most ardent defender of free financial markets reverses course, that should increase your skepticism toward free financial markets.)
Greenspan’s prepared testimony begins with a massive attempt to pass the buck. The first two pages of his account of the financial crisis have to do with rapid economic development overseas and the accumulation of the fabled global glut of savings. But he reaches even farther back to . . . the fall of the Berlin Wall and the discrediting of communism.
Firefighter arson is a serious problem. The U.S. Fire Administration, part of Homeland Security, concluded in 2003, “A very small percentage of otherwise trustworthy firefighters cause the very flames they are dispatched to put out” (p.1). Illustrative and shocking anecdotes are on pp. 9-15 of that report, as well as here and here.
Macroeconomic policy making now has a similar issue to confront. Continue reading
Adam Davidson at Planet Money recently asked, “Who Do We Blame?” Which, I think, is a perfectly legitimate question. While the most important things are getting ourselves out of this crisis and reducing the chances of another one happening, asking who is at fault for this one is a reasonable exercise, for at least two reasons: first, it responds to our basic human curiosity; second, since many of the parties involved care only about their reputations (Bush, Clinton, Greenspan, Paulson, etc. have enough money for several lifetimes), going after people’s reputations is one of the few ways to create some measure of accountability. Politicians who inveigh against “pointing fingers” usually have something to hide.
I started writing a comment on the Planet Money thread, but they have a character limit on comments, and it’s hard for me to write anything in fewer than 1250 characters. So I emailed them my response and, what do you know, they put it up as a post on their blog. To save you any suspense, I think that if you are going to blame any individual (as opposed to, say, a whole category of activity, like “lax loan underwriting”), it should be Alan Greenspan, for reasons described further in that post.
Update: My friend Dave Sohigian blames an entire generation.
Posted in Causes