2023-05-24 , 8809 , 104 , 77
美联储主席艾伦格林斯潘回忆录--动荡年代：勇闯新世界-the age of turbulence-51
Congressman Michael Castle, a Delaware Republican, half jokingly said that his mutual funds and real estate investments weren't doing so well,
but "no one is helping me out."
And Congressman Bruce Vento, a Democrat from Minnesota, complained that we were shielding rich people from the harsh effects of market forces that often caused misery for the little guy:
"There seem to be two rules," he said,
"one for Main Street and another one for Wall Street."
But telling the banks involved with LTCM that they might save themselves money if they facilitated an orderly liquidation of the fund was by no stretch of the imagination a bailout. By facing the harsh reality and acting in their self-interest, they saved themselves and, I suspect, millions of their fellow citizens on both Main Street and Wall Street a lot of money.
I was tracking the signs of trouble in the financial world with mounting concern for how all this might damage the economy. At a speaking engagement on October 7, after thirty-year treasury bonds hit their lowest interest rates in thirty years, I threw away my prepared remarks and told an audience of economists,
"I've been watching the U.S. markets for fifty years and I have never seen anything like this."
Specifically, I said, investors in the bond market were behaving irrationally—paying substantially extra for the newest, most liquid treasury bonds, even though slightly older but less liquid ones were equally safe. This rush to liquidity was unprecedented, I noted, and reflected not judgment but panic.
"They basically are saying, 'I want out. I don't want to know anything about whether an investment is risky or not. I can't stand the pain. I just want out.' The economists knew precisely what I was getting at. Panic in a market is like liquid nitrogen—it
can quickly cause a devastating freeze.
And indeed, the Fed's research was already showing that banks were increasingly hesitant to lend.
It took no argument at all to get the FOMC to lower interest rates. We did so three times in rapid succession, between September 29 and November 17. Other European and Asian central banks, honoring their new G7 commitment, also eased their rates.
Gradually, as we'd hoped, the medicine took hold. The world's markets calmed down, and a year and a half after the Asian crises began, Bob Rubin was finally able to take an uninterrupted family vacation.
The way the Fed responded to the Russian crisis reflected a gradually evolving departure from the policymaking textbook. Instead of putting all our energy into achieving the single best forecast and then betting everything on that; we based our policy response on a range of possible scenarios.
When Russia defaulted, the Fed's mathematical models showed that it was highly likely that the U.S. economy would continue expanding at a healthy pace in spite of Russia's problems and with no action by the Fed.
Yet we opted to ease interest rates all the same because of a small but real risk that the default might disrupt global financial markets enough to severely affect the United States.
That was a new kind of trade-off for us: we judged this unlikely but potentially greatly destabilizing event to be a greater threat to economic prosperity than the higher inflation that easier money might cause. I suspect there had been many such decisions in the Fed's past, but the underlying decision-making process had never been made systematic or explicit.
Weighing costs and benefits systematically in this way gradually came to dominate our policymaking approach. I liked it because it generalized from a number of ad hoc decisions we'd made in years past.
It let us reach beyond econometric models to factor in broader, though less mathematically precise, hypotheses about how the world works.
Importantly it also opened the door to the lessons of history: for example, by letting us explore how the railroad boom of the 1870s might hold clues to behavior in the
markets during the Internet craze.
Some economists still argue that such an approach to policy is too undisciplined—overly complex, seemingly discretionary, difficult to explain.
They want the Fed to set interest rates according to formal benchmarks and rules. We should manage the economy, say, to achieve an optimal level of employment, or by "targeting" a set rate of inflation. I agree that sensible policies can be made only with the help of rigorous analytic structures.
But too often we have to deal with incomplete and faulty data, unreasoning human
fear, and inadequate legal clarity. As elegant as modern-day econometrics has become, it is not up to the task of delivering policy prescriptions.
The world economy has become too complex and interlinked. Our policymaking process must evolve in response to that complexity.
I suppose we might have guessed that the last year of the millennium would be the wildest, giddiest boom year of all. Euphoria swept the U.S. markets in 1999, partly because the East Asian crises hadn't done us in.
If we'd made it through those, the thinking went, then the future was bright for as far as the eye could see.
What made this optimism so infectious was that it had a basis in fact.
Driven by technological innovation and helped by strong consumer demand and other factors, the economy was booming right along. Yet while the opportunities were real, the degree of hype was surreal.
You couldn't open the paper or read a magazine without encountering stories of the latest high-tech zillionaires. The head of a major consulting company made headlines when he quit to start Webvan, a company meant to deliver groceries ordered over the Internet. It raised $375 million in its initial public offering.
Some London fashionistas I'd never heard of founded something called Boo.com, an apparel Web site that raised $135 million with a scheme to become the leading global seller of trendy sportswear. Everybody, it seemed, had an uncle or a neighbor who'd made big gains on Internet stock.
The Fed, where people are constrained by conflict-of-interest rules from financial
speculation, was probably one of the few places in America where you could ride an elevator without overhearing stock tips. (Like scores of other Internet start-ups, Webvan and Boo.com flamed out—in 2001 and 2000, respectively.)
The Internet boom became part of TV news, not just on the networks (of which I am a faithful viewer, because of Andrea) but also on CNBC and other upstart cable channels that catered to businesspeople and investors.
On Super Bowl Sunday of 2000, half the thirty-second ad slots were bought by seventeen Internet start-ups for $2.2 million each—the Pets.com sock puppet appeared alongside Budweiser's Clydesdales and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz (in a FedEx spot).
In pop culture, I was right up there with the sock puppets.
CNBC invented a gimmick called the "briefcase indicator" in which cameras would
follow me on the mornings of FOMC meetings as I arrived at the Fed.
If my briefcase was thin; the theory went, then my mind was untroubled and the
economy was well.
But if it was stuffed full, it meant I'd been burning the midnight oil and a rate hike loomed. (For the record, the briefcase indicator was not accurate. The fatness of my briefcase was solely a function of whether I had packed my lunch.)
People would stop me on the street and thank me for their 401 (k); I'd be cordial in response, though I admit I occasionally felt tempted to say,
"Madam, I had nothing to do with your 401 (k)."
It's a very uncomfortable feeling to be complimented for something you didn't do. Andrea, who was by turns exasperated and amused, kept a box filled with "Greenspan-alia"—
cartoons and postcards and clippings that were especially strange, not to mention Alan Greenspan T-shirts and even a doll.
Undoubtedly I could have avoided some of this—it would have been easy to duck the cameras, for example, by driving into the Fed's garage.
But I was in the habit of walking those last several blocks to the office, and once
they started doing the briefcase indicator, I didn't want to give the impression I was hiding. Besides, it wasn't mean-spirited—why be a killjoy?
The briefcase indicator was not a good way to convey monetary policy,
however. Often, the ideas we needed to present were subtle and had to be thought through, making them poor fodder for sound bites as well.
If sound bites had been our only contact with the media, I'd have been extremely
But the Fed got a great deal of expert coverage. While it was my practice to avoid on-the-record interviews, my door was open to serious reporters.
When someone called with questions for an important story, I'd often take the time to meet on background and talk through the ideas. (This practice helped print journalists more than it did TV people, Andrea was quick to point out, but I couldn't do anything about that.)
In the midst of all this craziness there was still real work to do.
In the fall, Larry Summers and I had to settle a major turf war between the Treasury
and the Fed. What had set it off was a push by Congress to overhaul the laws governing America's financial industries—banks, insurance companies, investment houses, real estate companies, and the like.
Years in the making, the Financial Services Modernization Act finally did away with the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that limited the ability of banks,
investment firms, and insurance companies to enter one another's markets.
(未完待续, To be contd)