Alan Greenspan: Two Economies

“Our problem, basically, is that we have a very distorted economy in the sense that there has been a significant recovery in a limited area of the economy amongst high-income individuals who have just had $800 billion added to their 401(k)s and are spending it and are carrying what consumption there is. Large banks, who are doing much better, and large corporations, whom you point out and the–and everyone’s pointing out, are in excellent shape.

The rest of the economy, small business, small banks, and a very significant amount of the labor force, which is in tragic unemployment, long-term unemployment, that is pulling the economy apart. The average of those two is what we are looking at, but they are fundamentally two separate types of economy.”

-former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, Meet the Press


Fascinating quote from Easy Al on Meet the Press via Bloomberg. It has 3 subtexts that might not be readily apparent — until we break it down:

1) Extend the Bush tax cuts on highest bracket earners: Since its the 401(k) crowd that are carrying the recovery, Greenspan suggests, then we best not crimp the income of these big spenders

2) Two Americas: Greenspan seems to be channeling John Edwards when he discusses two economies. The bailouts reduced competition. They extended the life of badly structured financial firms, and forced smaller firms to scramble.

3) Greenspan’s Legacy: It seems that Easy Al can figure out precisely what he has wrought. The secret to getting such candor out of the former Fed chief is to trick him into discussing the broader economy.  That way, he does not realize that he is discussing the effects of his tenure as FOMC chair.

Of course, Greenspan is still wrong on Housing. Recall that he failed to recognize the impending housing correction (collapse more accurately) and made claims that the worst was behind us — just as housing was accelerating downwards:

“If home prices stay stable, then I think we will skirt the worst of the housing problem.  But right under this current price level, maybe 5, 7 or 8 percent below is a very large block of mortgages which are underwater, so to speak, or could be underwater, and that would induce a major increase in foreclosures.  Foreclosures would feed on the weakness in prices, and it would create a problem.  So that–it’s touch and go.”

One last thing: I have to give Greenspan credit for this touch of tax cut honesty:

“Look, I’m very much in favor of tax cuts, but not with borrowed money.  And the problem that we’ve gotten into in recent years is spending programs with borrowed money, tax cuts with borrowed money, and at the end of the day, that proves disastrous.”

For once, I agree with him . . .


Greenspan sounds optimistic note on housing: report (Oct. 7, 2006)

Greenspan on Housing Bottoms (April 10, 2008)

Yet Another Greenspan Housing Bottom Call (May 13, 2009)

Meet the Press transcript for August 1, 2010
Mike Bloomberg, Alan Greenspan, Ed Rendell, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Mark Halperin  MSNBC, 8/1/2010 1:12:55 PM ET

Greenspan Says Drop in Home Prices Might Bring Back Recession
Joshua Zumbrun
Bloomberg, Aug. 2 2010

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