Greenspan takes center stage in 'Age of Turbulence'

Alan Greenspan has spent a lifetime writing speeches and papers on the economy.

But when it came time to write about his own life, the former Federal Reserve chairman says he hit a wall.

"I'm an introvert," Greenspan, 81, says, sitting in his expansive office in downtown Washington with a view of the Washington Monument Friday afternoon.

"I'm always an objective observer, standing off the stage, examining the play going on, but never on the stage," he says. "But they wanted me on the stage, which meant writing in the first person. And that was a struggle."

Greenspan plays the lead role in his book, The Age of Turbulence, out Monday, and gives readers a look into a man everyone knows but few know a lot about. One million copies of the book have been made in the initial printing.

Although Greenspan also delves into a variety of economic topics, it is the personal part that is likely to be the most interesting, even for those who have followed the former Fed chief for decades.

He discusses how his parents' divorce "left a big hole" in his life, even though he remained in touch with his dad, Herbert, who was a broker on Wall Street. Later, of his divorce to his first wife, Joan Mitchell, Greenspan says, "I was the main problem," arguing he married a good woman for the wrong reasons.

Greenspan describes how his mathematical abilities shone through at a young age. His mom, Rose Goldsmith, used to show off to relatives how he could do addition and multiplication in his head, a likely uncomfortable feat for someone who as a boy was "more inclined to sit in the corner." As an avid baseball fan, he developed his own technique of keeping baseball box scores during the 1936 World Series.

"To this day, I can recite the lineup of Yankees starting players, complete with their positions and batting averages, for that World Series," he says.

Such skills helped him succeed in later years, starting in his first job as an economist making $45 a week analyzing obscure, industrial data, later building up a successful consulting firm and then joining the government.

After leading the Fed for 18½ years, Greenspan today runs his own consulting firm, Greenspan Associates. He continues to make speeches for six-figure fees, mainly at private gatherings. But occasionally he has shaken up stock markets when his comments have hit the press, drawing criticism from those who say the guy just doesn't know how to retire.

That criticism will likely grow louder, with Greenspan releasing a book the day before the Fed meets to discuss interest rates. (He says he didn't select the date and just found out when the Fed was meeting a little over a month ago.)

"I'm an economist," Greenspan says, charts filling up his computer screen and papers piled in nearly every corner. As he prepares for a photographer to take pictures of him sitting at his desk, Greenspan announces, "This is my filing system" and throws a heap of newspapers onto the floor.

"It's what I love to do. It's what I've been doing since my early 20s," he says. "I've changed employers, but I've never changed what I do every day. And I have no intention of doing that."

Greenspan has been in defensive mode these days. Several prominent economists, such as Stanford University professor John Taylor and UCLA professor Edward Leamer, have said the Fed under Greenspan kept interest rates too low for too long, fueling the housing boom that has gone bust.

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