In 1987 President Ronald Reagan appointed him chairman of the Federal Reserve System, replacing Paul Volcker. Reappointed by Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, he served in the office for nearly two decades. As Federal Reserve chairman, he earlier emphasized controlling inflation over promoting economic growth, but by 2003 a prolonged economic slowdown had shifted concern to possible deflation. During the 10-year expansion that began in 1991, Greenspan won widespread praise for what was regarded as the deft manipulation of interest rates, but the cutting of rates to historic lows during the 2001-3 slowdown only gradually produced the desired growth. A side effect, however, of the historically low interest rates was a significant increase in housing prices (in some parts of the country) and consumer indebtedness, both of which contributed to economic difficulties after Greenspan retired as Federal Reserve Board chairman in 2006. Greenspan's resistance in general to governmental regulation of financial markets also contributed to the economic crisis that began in 2007. Since retiring, he has headed an economic consulting firm and served in a number of advisory positions.
See his The Age of Turbulence (2007); D. B. Sicilia and J. L. Cruikshank, The Greenspan Effect (1999); J. Martin, Greenspan: The Man behind Money (2000); B. Woodward, Maestro: Greenspan's Fed and the American Boom (2000).
First appointed Fed chairman by President Ronald Reagan in August 1987, he was reappointed at successive four-year intervals until retiring on January 31, 2006 after the second-longest tenure in the position. Greenspan was lauded for his handling of the Black Monday October 19, 1987, stock market crash that occurred very shortly after he first became chairman, as well as for his stewardship of the Internet-driven, "dot-com" economic boom of the 1990s. This expansion eventually ended in a burst in March 2000 leading to an economic downturn, including negative GDP growth in the first quarter of 2001.
After 2001, some congressional leaders and others criticized him, for certain statements they found to overstep the Fed's traditional purview of monetary policy, and for other statements they saw as overly supportive of the policies of President George W. Bush. In 2004 Business Week Magazine criticized his keeping of low interest levels too long and his concurrent praise of sub-prime lending vehicles such as ARMs as leading to a housing bubble. Some, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, assign a large degree of culpability for the devastating Economic crisis of 2008 to Greenspan. Stiglitz stated that Greenspan “didn't really believe in regulation; when the excesses of the financial system were noted, [he and others] called for self-regulation—an oxymoron.” Greenspan, according to The New York Times, says he himself is blameless.
All considered, during his tenure Greenspan was the leading authority on American domestic economic and monetary policy, and his active influence continues.
In the early 1950s, Greenspan began an association with famed novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand that would last until her death in 1982. He wrote for Rand’s newsletters and authored several essays in her book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Rand stood beside him at his 1974 swearing-in as Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.
From 1948 to 1953, Greenspan worked as an economic analyst at The Conference Board, a business and industry oriented think-tank in New York City. From 1955 to 1987, when he was appointed as Chair of the Federal Reserve, Greenspan was Chairman and President of Townsend-Greenspan & Co., Inc., an economic consulting firm in New York City, a 33-year stint interrupted only from 1974 to 1977 by his service as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Gerald Ford. In the summer of 1968, Greenspan agreed to serve Richard Nixon as his coordinator on domestic policy in the nomination campaign. Greenspan also has served as a corporate director for Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa); Automatic Data Processing, Inc.; Capital Cities/ABC, Inc.; General Foods, Inc.; J.P. Morgan & Co., Inc.; Morgan Guaranty Trust Company of New York; Mobil Corporation; and The Pittston Company. He was a director of the Council on Foreign Relations foreign policy organization between 1982 and 1988. He also served as a member of the influential Washington-based financial advisory body, the Group of Thirty in 1984.
Alan Greenspan has been married twice. His first marriage was to Joan Mitchell in 1952; the marriage ended in divorce one year later. He dated newswoman Barbara Walters in the late 1970s. In 1984, Greenspan began dating journalist Andrea Mitchell. Greenspan at the time was 58, and the also once divorced Mitchell was 20 years his junior at the age of 38. In 1997, they were married by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
On May 18, 2004, Greenspan was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve for an unprecedented fifth term as chairman of the Federal Reserve. He was previously appointed to the post by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Greenspan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, by President George W. Bush in November 2005. His honorary titles include Knight Commander of the British Empire, bestowed in 2002 and Commander of the Légion d'honneur (Legion of Honor).
Greenspan's term as a member of the Board ended on January 31, 2006, and Ben Bernanke was confirmed as his successor. Bernanke is a former chairman of the U.S. President's Council of Economic Advisers, and his appointment is seen in part as a move to effect a smooth transition.
He will also counsel on monetary policy and falling housing prices and about a possible recession in the United States. Paulson & Co is famously known for its record profit making during 2007 by conducting bets against mortgage derivatives which earned the firm billions of dollars last year. The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed and Greenspan must not, under the agreement, advise any other hedge fund manager while working for Paulson.
In February 2008 he spoke at the Jeddah Economic Forum.
Greenspan wrote in the week of March 17, 2008 that the 2008-financial crisis in the United States is likely to be judged as the most wrenching since the end of World War II.
Greenspan now works as a private advisor making speeches and providing consulting for firms through his company, Greenspan Associates LLC. Directly following his retirement as Fed chairman, Greenspan accepted an honorary (unpaid) position at HM Treasury in the United Kingdom. In May 2007, Greenspan was hired as a special consultant by PIMCO to participate in Pimco’s quarterly economic forums and speak privately with the bond manager about Fed interest rate policy. In August 2007, Deutsche Bank announced that it would be retaining Greenspan as a Senior Advisor to its investment banking team and clients.
On February 26, 2007, Greenspan forecast a possible recession in the U.S. before or in early 2008. Stabilizing corporate profits are said to have influenced his comments. The following day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 12,216.24 dropping by 416 points and losing 3.3% of its value, the worst one day loss since September 17, 2001, when the Dow Jones lost 684 points (7.1%) after reopening in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This drop is not thought to be entirely due to Greenspan's recent comment, whose opinion is nonetheless substantially influential.
He has written his memoir, titled The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, published September 17, 2007. Greenspan says that he wrote this book in longhand mostly while soaking in the bathtub, a habit he regularly employs ever since an accident in 1971, when he injured his back.. Greenspan discusses in his book, among other things, his history in government and economics, capitalism and other modes of economies, current issues in the global economy, and future issues that face the global economy. In the book Greenspan criticizes President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and the Republican-controlled Congress for abandoning the Republican Party's principles on spending and deficits. Greenspan's criticisms of President Bush include his refusal to veto spending bills, sending the country into increasingly deep deficits, and for "putting political imperatives ahead of sound economic policies". Greenspan writes, "They swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose [the 2006 election]”. Of all the presidents with whom he worked, he praises Bill Clinton above all others, saying that Clinton maintained “a consistent, disciplined focus on long-term economic growth.” Although he respected what he saw as Richard Nixon's immense intelligence, Greenspan found him to be the most profane, bigoted, and disturbed president to work with. He said of Gerald Ford that he "was as close to normal as you get in a president, but he was never elected."
Greenspan admitted that the housing bubble was “fundamentally engendered by the decline in real long-term interest rates”, though he also claims that long-term interest rates are beyond the control of central banks because "the market value of global long-term securities is approaching $100 trillion" and thus these and other asset markets are large enough that they "now swamp the resources of central banks."
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Federal Open Market Committee voted to reduce the federal funds rate from 3.5% to 3.0%. Then, after the accounting scandals of 2002, the Fed dropped the federal funds rate from then current 1.25% to 1.00%. Greenspan acknowledged that this drop in rates would have the effect of leading to a surge in home sales and refinancing.
In 2008, Greenspan expressed great frustration that his 23 February 2004 speech was used to criticize him on ARMs and the subprime mortgage crisis, and stated that he had made countervailing comments eight days after it that praised traditional fixed-rate mortgages.
In that speech on February 23, 2004, Greenspan had suggested that lenders should offer to home purchasers a greater variety of "mortgage product alternatives" other than traditional fixed-rate mortgages. Greenspan also praised the rise of the subprime mortgage industry and the tools with which it uses to assess credit-worthiness in an April 2005 speech:
The subprime mortgage industry collapsed in March 2007, with many of the largest lenders filing for bankruptcy protection in the face of spiraling foreclosure rates. For these reasons, Greenspan has been criticized for his role in the rise of the housing bubble and the subsequent problems in the mortgage industry, as well as "engineering" the housing bubble itself:
The article attracted a number of critical responses from forum contributors, which consists of some of the world’s leading economists (including two Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences winners, Edmund Phelps and Joseph Stiglitz), who, finding causation between Greenspan's policies and the discontinuities in financial markets that followed, criticized Greenspan mainly for what many believed to be his unbalanced and immovable ideological suppositions about global capitalism and free competitive markets. For example, one forum contributor, Paul de Grauwe, wrote: “Greenspan’s article is a smokescreen to hide his own responsibility in making the financial crisis possible. Greenspan, who was at the helm of the most important monetary institution in the world, failed to take his responsibility to supervise the financial markets blinded as he, and his colleagues, were by a belief that markets and bankers know better than governments.” Other notable critics included J. Bradford DeLong, Alice Rivlin, Richard Werner, Christopher Whalen, Michael Hudson, and Willem Buiter.
On April 6, Greenspan responded to his critics in a follow-up article entitled, “A response to my critics,” in which he rigorously defended his ideology as applied to his conceptual and policy framework, which, among other things, prohibited him from exerting real pressure against the burgeoning housing bubble or, in his words, "leaning against the wind," (which became a catchphrase used during the discussion). Greenspan argued, "My view of the range of dispersion of outcomes has been shaken, but not my judgment that free competitive markets are by far the unrivaled way to organize economies." He concluded: "We have tried regulation ranging from heavy to central planning. None meaningfully worked. Do we wish to retest the evidence?
On April 9, the Financial Times associate editor and chief economics commentator, Martin Wolf responded to the discussion with an article entitled, “Why Greenspan does not bear most of the blame,” defending Greenspan primarily as a scapegoat for the market turmoil. Several notable contributors in defense of Greenspan included Stephen Roach, Allan Meltzer, and Robert Brusca.
Greenspan describes himself as a “lifelong Libertarian Republican”. On March 3, 2005, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid attacked Greenspan as “one of the biggest political hacks we have here in Washington” and criticized him for supporting Bush's 2001 tax cut plan. Greenspan has also received criticism from Democratic Congressman Barney Frank and others for his support of Bush's plan to phase out Social Security in favor of private accounts. Greenspan had said Bush's model has "the seeds of developing full funding by its very nature. As I've said before, I've always supported moves to full funding in the context of a private account.
Economist Paul Krugman, a frequent Greenspan critic, wrote in the New York Times that Greenspan was a “three-card maestro” with a “lack of sincerity” who, “by repeatedly shilling for whatever the Bush administration wants, has betrayed the trust placed in the Fed chairman”.
Charges that Greenspan was veering beyond the Fed's purview of monetary policy into fiscal and political matters traditionally left to lawmakers became more prevalent, coming for example from sources such as Republican Senator Jim Bunning who voted against reconfirming him. Then-Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated in 2005 there were serious questions about the Fed's independence as a result of Greenspan's public statements. But others like Republican Senator Mitch McConnell disagreed, stating that Greenspan “has been an independent player at the Fed for a long time under both parties and made an enormous positive contribution”. Furthermore, Greenspan had used his position as Fed Chairman to comment upon fiscal policy as early as 1993, when he supported President Clinton's deficit reduction plan, which included tax hikes and budget cuts.
Greenspan was initially a logical positivist but was converted to Objectivism by Nathaniel Branden. During the 1950s and 1960s Greenspan was a proponent of Ayn Rand's philosophy, writing articles for Objectivist newsletters and contributing several essays for Rand's 1966 book Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal including an essay supporting the gold standard.
During the 1950s, Greenspan was one of the members of Ayn Rand's inner circle, the Ayn Rand Collective, who read Atlas Shrugged while it was being written. Rand nicknamed Greenspan "the undertaker" because of his penchant for dark clothing and reserved demeanor. Although Greenspan continues to advocate laissez-faire capitalism, some Objectivists find his support for a gold standard somewhat incongruous or dubious, given the Federal Reserve's role in America's fiat money system and endogenous inflation. He has come under criticism from Harry Binswanger, who believes his actions while at work for the Federal Reserve and his publicly expressed opinions on other issues show abandonment of Objectivist and free market principles. However, when questioned in relation to this, he has said that in a democratic society individuals have to make compromises with each other over conflicting ideas of how money should be handled. He said he himself had to make such compromises, because he actually believes that “we did extremely well” without a central bank and with a gold standard. Greenspan and Rand maintained a close relationship until her death in 1982.