Greenspan groupies are full of rational exuberance
NEW YORK — It wasn’t Bono, Tiger Woods or the pope, but you wouldn’t have known that from the throng of 500 people who flooded a Manhattan Barnes & Noble to get a gander at former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan.
The main event arrived a half hour early Monday night with his wife, NBC news correspondent Andrea Mitchell, characteristically keeping his head down. That would not surprise anyone who has read Greenspan’s new memoir, “The Age of Turbulence,” in which he reveals that as a youth during the Depression he developed an enduring habit of searching beaches and sidewalks for lost coins.
Primed by a weekend of newsmaking television interviews by the former central banker, the crowd began building several hours early. And it was a very well-informed crowd, full of people who seemed to take as avid an interest in the economy as the man who dedicated more than 18 years to running the Fed.
“I have followed him closely and I am impressed with him. He has a wealth of knowledge,” said Emily Needell, who works for Clear Indexes LLC, a company that creates indexes — a la the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 — for the investment industry.
Like many in the crowd, which was full of financial services employees, she had purchased a book but was facing uncertain chances of getting close enough to Greenspan to get her copy signed.
Some of the younger members of the audience said Greenspan’s importance had been impressed on them in school. Lori Hu, an independent consultant who graduated from Duke University, said “My economics professor said everything that Alan Greenspan says is followed by everyone. My professor talked a lot about Greenspan.”
Armand Aubery, a French-born architect visiting from Miami, said he felt compelled to follow the Fed’s activities in order to converse with his wealthy clients. The tourist said he had just happened to walk in and that it was pure luck that he got a chance to eye Greenspan, whom he admires.
“I think he had a great vision and he has a new vision too for the future,” Aubery said. “If you read between the lines, his vision is very gloomy.”
There were a few detractors and hecklers, but the majority who turned out seemed grateful to Greenspan for his stewardship of the economy until early 2006. “He did a great job in keeping the U.S. and the world economy going,” said Marion Becker, of Manhattan. “He helped raise the standard of living for many people.”
Greenspan spoke for a little over 10 minutes and dwelt less on his management of the economy than on his Manhattan youth and his early days as a jazz musician, wowing the crowd with his description of playing beside a teenage Stan Getz. He also offered tender memories of the late President Gerald Ford, predicting that future historians will depict him as a great unifier, following the tumult of the Nixon years.
Some in the crowd were keenly aware that Greenspan’s Monday appearance was just one day before his successor Ben Bernanke and other members of the Fed’s monetary policy team would make a crucial decision on interest rates. The meeting followed nearly two months of market turbulence due to a shrinking credit industry.
“If you are a trader, or anyone who follows rates, tomorrow could be the biggest day of Bernanke’s career,” said John Dieterich, who began his career with the investment firm Morgan Stanley and now trades on his own.