Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Capitalism in America (Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge)

Alan Greenspan’s long tenure at the Federal Reserve coincided with two large periods of economic growth and two fairly notable recessions fueled by “irrational exuberance” (Greenspan’s favorite term) in various sectors of the economy. Greenspan’s knowledge of economic policy throughout American history helps to serve as the basis for his recent book, Capitalism in America, co-written with Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist.

Greenspan takes us back to the beginning of America and charts a 240-year voyage through its economic and capitalist development, buoyed by his opinions and analysis of key moments and trends throughout our nation’s history that have steered us through periods of dominance and into our current period of uncertainty. The book varies through a number of paradoxical statements when it comes to the role of the state, praising funding for science and innovation throughout our nation’s history while talking about entitlement spending in a negative light. Greenspan, while promoting a classical conservative lean, does take both Republicans and Democrats to task for much of the current state of affairs. The book ends with a modest discussion about where America goes in the future, shaped in part by some guarded optimism that its past history of overcoming challenges will help steer the country in a path to a better light.

From a historical standpoint of understanding capitalism’s role in America’s growth, Greenspan’s book reads reasonably well and provides a healthy balance of anecdote and textbook-like research. However, from a standpoint of fixing what’s ailing America’s economics, the book drifts into a set of inconsistent views without offering more concrete objectives on how to fix the things that are gunking up the economic machine. Capitalism in America comes close to delivering the whole package but sadly misses the ribbon and the wrapping paper in Greenspan’s gift of his take on economic history.