As John Rubino eloquently puts it, "when the history of these times is written, former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan will be one of the major villains, but also one of the greatest mysteries. This is so because he has, in effect, been three different people." Greenspan started his public life brilliantly, as a libertarian thinker who said some compelling and accurate things about gold and its role in the world. An example from 1966: "This is the shabby secret of the welfare statists' tirades against gold. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights. If one grasps this, one has no difficulty in understanding the statists' antagonism toward the gold standard."
Yet everything changed a few decades later when Greenspan was put in charge of the Federal Reserve in the late 1980s, instead of applying the above wisdom, for example by limiting the bank's interference in the private sector and letting market forces determine winners and losers, he did a full 180, intervening in every crisis, creating new currency with abandon, and generally behaving like his old ideological enemies, the Keynesians. Predictably, debt soared during his long tenure.
Along the way he was also instrumental in preventing regulation of credit default swaps and other derivatives that nearly blew up the system in 2008. His view of those instruments:
The reason that growth has continued despite adversity, or perhaps because of it, is that these new financial instruments are an increasingly important vehicle for unbundling risks. These instruments enhance the ability to differentiate risk and allocate it to those investors most able and willing to take it. This unbundling improves the ability of the market to engender a set of product and asset prices far more calibrated to the value preferences of consumers than was possible before derivative markets were developed. The product and asset price signals enable entrepreneurs to finely allocate real capital facilities to produce those goods and services most valued by consumers, a process that has undoubtedly improved national productivity growth and standards of living.
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