Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Gift Ideas for the Economic Educator (What I’ve Been Reading)

One of the books I promised to review was Alan Greenspan’s memoir, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World. Well, I finished it. It took a little longer than I thought, but only because I lack all the reading time I had when I was commuting in Chicago. (You can get a lot read in an hour plus on a train.)

If you’re an econ teacher or a student of recent history, and you’ve not read this book, I strongly encourage you to do so. Don’t be afraid of Mr. Greenspan’s reputation for confusing statements. In this book, he is quite clear. However, if you listened to him as often as I did during my career at the Fed, you can hear his voice. This is no ghost-written biopic. This is the man and his thoughts.

The first part of the book is largely biographical – following Mr. Greenspan from his boyhood in New York, through college and into private practice and public service. Once there, we view world events and world leaders through the experiences of one who saw many of them. From the Roosevelt administration in World War II, to the current President Bush, Mr. Greenspan met and advised many leaders and potential leaders. And he provides a candid assessment of each.

But it is the second part of this book that I found most interesting, and that I believe will be of the most value, particularly to economics teachers. It is in this part, that Greenspan gives his views of many of the economic hurdles ahead of us. He talks with the clarity and intellect which was a hallmark of his analysis. I found much in the second part of the book to think about and to share with students. And I suspect you will as well. Where Greenspan excels in is explaining the economic concepts as they apply to the issues. And although you may not like what he has to say, his explanation remains valuable. Likewise, his analysis is timely. I was frequently struck by the recent data that he put in the book. For a book released in September of 2007, I was struck by the number of references to information from the spring of that year. It is apparent that the book went to press quickly, but only after up-to-date and relevant information was included. This book is a must have for the economics teacher and Fed watcher on your shopping list. (Shop now, the retailers seem to need a shot in the arm.)

I invite others who have read the book to share their reviews. And if you’ve not yet read it, please come back when you have. I welcome your thoughts.


Andrew H. said...

I think one of the most interesting things about what Greenspan has written is his desire to share with everyone a much more personal view of himself. As Fed chairman, the world viewed him as very much an enigma, but in the Age of Turbulence he shows a genuine desire for people to better understand the events that have shaped his life and what was growing through his head at some particularly pivotol times in the life of the U.S. economy. His description of the moments when he first learned of the 9/11 attacks are particularly telling about the kind of man he is and where his priorities lie.

Anonymous said...

It has taken me a while to get through the Age of Turbulance, but it was a labor of love. It is exciting to see how what I teach to my students everyday is applied. I would like this book to be required reading for my students, but it is too long and too technical - although I do appreciate him showing his modesty and humility as well as his superior intelligence. His views of world leaders is fascinating.

Greg VanSlambrook, Brebeuf Jesuit, Indianapolis said...

I'm actually using selections from the first part of Greenspan's book when I teach fiscal policy this semester. I thought that his summaries of the choices and effects of fiscal policy in the Nixon, Ford, and Carter years help to give real-life context to what's in the intro textbooks.
About the book in general, I was actually disappointed that it didn't get MORE personal. All that seemed to come across to me was that he loved philosophical debate, economic data and policy, and schmoozing with the powerful and famous (the name-dropping got annoying to me after awhile). And also that he is very comfortable and confident that almost every decision he made was the right one, or at least made as best he could with the information he had. I think we knew all those things about him already.
But as a summary of economic policy of the past several decades, I thought it was great.