Fed Chairman Greenspan’s Quirky Past

As a young man, decked out in a canary yellow jacket, he blew a mean saxophone in jazz clubs around the country.

Now the world knows Alan Greenspan as the ever-serious Federal Reserve chairman who has attained near cult status for shepherding the U.S. economy through its longest expansion in history. He is often called the second most powerful man in the government.

The first biography of the 74-year-old chairman traces how Greenspan, raised in poverty by a single mother, transformed himself from nerdy economic thinker to indispensable adviser to five presidents.

This Is Greenspan’s Life New York writer Justin Martin said he was driven to write Greenspan: The Man Behind Money by the sense that Greenspan has led a fascinating private life. The book, published by Perseus Publishing, will be out in November.

“I just knew there had to be a story there,” Martin said.

Martin interviewed 250 of Greenspan’s friends, from elementary school classmates to Greenspan’s ex-wife and his current wife, NBC newswoman Andrea Mitchell. The book is not an authorized biography, but the Federal Reserve said Greenspan and Fed staffers helped Martin check his facts.

Humble Beginnings Greenspan grew up in his grandparent’s cramped one-bedroom apartment in New York, where his mother Rose had moved after divorcing Greenspan’s father, Herbert, when Greenspan was 5.

The precocious Greenspan would sing the Depression-era anthem “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” to get spare change from his uncle and would add up three-digit numbers in his head to impress guests.

At 9, Greenspan read Recovery Ahead, a book his absent father, a sometime economic consultant, had written in praise of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s economic programs.

In an inscription, the father expressed the hope that his son “may look back and endeavor to interpret the reasoning behind these logical forecasts and begin a like work of your own.”

In school, Greenspan’s real love was music. He enrolled at Julliard School of Music, aiming for a career as a professional musician. But he grew restless and left school to tour in Henry Jerome’s dance band, pulling down $62 a week by playing tenor saxophone, clarinet and occasionally the flute.

“Alan was good, although he wasn’t primarily a jazz player,” Jerome told Martin. “I hired him because he was an excellent musician, but I didn’t use him as an improviser.”

Playing With Numbers Greenspan did the band’s books and helped band members with their taxes. He came to recognize that he had too little musical talent and left the band after a year to pursue his other passion, numbers. He earned an undergraduate degree in economics in 1948.

It took another 29 years for him to earn a doctorate. New York University awarded it in 1977 based on Greenspan’s off-and-on pursuit of the degree and a collection of his writings, including the annual economic report of the president prepared when Greenspan was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Ford. Greenspan never finished his dissertation.

While Greenspan’s first marriage, to Joan Mitchell, an art history student from Canada, ended after just 10 months, the two remained close.

It was through his ex-wife that Greenspan was drawn into the circle of Ayn Rand, controversial author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Rand’s followers, known as Objectivists, were intense believers in Rand’s celebration of rugged individualism and the triumph of capitalism over socialism.

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