Greenspan the Keynesian?

Recently John Cassidy in the New Yorker wrote a piece about Alan Greenspan’s new book “The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting” in which Greenspan admits to flaws in the neo-classical model that people and financial institutions act in their own self-interest. He has finally come round to admitting that people’s actions are often driven by “Animal Spirits” (originates from Keynes) and rather than behaving like calculators they respond to fear, greed, euphoria, and impatience. He identified 10 traits which he calls “Inbred Propensities”. It seems that during his tenure as Fed Chairman Greeenspan rarely mentioned Keynes although he studied it at Columbia University in the 1950’s. As John Cassidy points out by the time he met Ayan Rand he was of the neo-classical orthodox. The article is worth a look – plenty of good debate.

Alan Greenspan Rediscovers Keynes – Sort Of

Remember the difference between the two schools of thought

New Class - Ext Keyn

Interest Rates under Volcker, Greenspan and Bernanke

Here is a chart from WSJ Graphics which shows the level of interest rates in the US from 1980 to today. With the stagflation of the 1970’s Paul Volcker was faced with some very tough decisions. Below is an extract from an interview with him on the PBS Commanding Heights documentary.

It came to be considered part of Keynesian doctrine that a little bit of inflation is a good thing. And of course what happens then, you get a little bit of inflation, then you need a little more, because it peps up the economy. People get used to it, and it loses its effectiveness. Like an antibiotic, you need a new one; you need a new one. Well, I certainly thought that inflation was a dragon that was eating at our innards, so the need was to slay that dragon.

If you had told me in August of 1979 that interest rates, the prime rate would get to 21.5 percent, I probably would have crawled into a hole. I would have crawled into a hole and cried, I suppose. But then we lived through it.

US Interest rates 1979-2014

US inflation and Unemployment under last 3 Fed Chairman

Below is a graphic from the WSJ which outlines inflation and unemployment under the last 3 Fed Chairmen – Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke. From the stagflation that was slain by Volker to the irrational exuberance of the Greenspan years and finally the financial contraction under Ben Bernanke. In the 1970’s Volcker tightened the money supply, the economy slowed and contracted – unemployment reached 10 percent. By August 1979 the prime interest rate got to 21.5% but by 1982 the inflation problem had been extinguished. However this was after 3 years of real hardship for the American people. Today we see that inflation isn’t the problem that it used to be and that stimulating growth and job creation is required.

Infl Unemp Fed Chairs