The Age of Turbulence

The Book of the Week is “The Age of Turbulence” by Alan Greenspan, published in 2007. This is a career memoir / global macroeconomics overview in one tome. Perhaps it should have been split into two books so as to be more comprehensive, as the author, in describing the recent economic affairs of India, Russia and China, failed to mention major factors in connection therewith; such as the caste system, Jeffrey Sachs’ advice to Boris Yeltsin, and a detailed description of China’s one-child policy.

Born in 1926, Greenspan studied business and finance at New York University after WWII. While there, he spent two months on freelance work doing economics research. It involved pencil, paper and a slide rule. These days, it would take minutes and involve software.

In August 1974, the author was appointed chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. He cited President Nixon’s price and wage controls as an example of government action that leads to resistance from the market. The first quarter of 1976 saw the U.S. economy grow at 9.3% and the second quarter, at less than 2%. Greenspan was not alarmed by this kind of extreme swing; however, the slowing economy caused voters to choose Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford for president in 1976. During Carter’s term, economists learned that the way for a country to achieve long-term prosperity is to control inflation. The reason Carter caused financial havoc was that his economic goals contradicted each other.

In summer 1987, Greenspan became chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. In 1993, Bill Clinton chose to reduce the federal deficit rather than keep his campaign promises that necessitated increasing spending on various items. He could not afford to do both. The result was a budget surplus by 1998.

In late 1994, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve had to take action to prevent Mexico’s financial collapse. Otherwise, the southwestern states would be adversely affected, and immigrants coming into the U.S. would double.

In 1996, more and more households were exposing themselves to equity risks. Even so, introduction of the World Wide Web appears to have been an innovation that temporarily increased the economy’s ability to expand on an unusually grand scale. Approximately during the Web’s first decade, the economy wasn’t in a normal business cycle. The Web’s ability to make information available instantaneously, thus reducing uncertainty, provided a major boost to corporate America. The Fed, therefore, raised interest rates to curb inflation only in autumn 1998, what with the dire financial straits of the Russians, and hedge fund Long Term Capital Management’s bailout.

In the autumn of 2002, the Republicans turned a deaf ear to the author when he tried to tell them why it was important to rein in spending and renew the Budget Enforcement Act. He already had a difficult job, as he explained, “But too often we have to deal with incomplete and faulty data, unreasoning human fear, and inadequate legal clarity.” Nevertheless, Greenspan is optimistic about the future because the level of worldwide commerce and living standards can continue to rise indefinitely. He believes the presence of wholly competitive free markets and ever-improving technology are what drive them.

Read the book to learn about the two major elements required for a market economy and two others that are essential for growth and prosperity; the factors involved in predicting the health of the U.S. economy in 2030; three important influences on global growth; about the nature of economic populism, and much more.

Why Not Me?

The Book of the Week is “Why Not Me?” by Al Franken, published in 1999. This is a funny, imaginary account of what a presidential run and administration of Democrat Al Franken might look like.

The author created a composite parody of the sinful actions and behaviors in which presidential candidates and other politicians have engaged in recent decades. His (mock) diary revealed all. Warning:  there were some toilet jokes.

The very illegal activities included manufacture of drugs, assault, fraud, theft, prostitution, obstruction of justice, “dine-and-dash” from restaurants, defaulting on hotel bills, and interstate flight from New Hampshire and Iowa after committing some of said crimes.

Lesser wrongdoing included failure of the campaign to file timely or accurate financial disclosure forms with the Federal Election Commission; the laundering of donations from insurance companies (campaign donors) via “royalty payments” for a book the candidate had authored;  influence peddling; patronage; lying in speeches; and “Dishonest conduct toward your wife and numerous girlfriends.”

Franken also failed to read his campaign manager’s memos in a timely manner. On a military issue, he wrote, “Gay military. All gay military (??). No…” One serious consideration he had was “goal [:] no wars during my administration.”

Read the book to learn of the candidate’s major hot-button issue, and the other, lesser issues he seized upon (which would be Republican proposals); of the trouble he had controlling his drunk brother; the underhanded, gay-related scheme he executed against his main opponent (Al Gore), and the aftermath of his election victory.

A Reporter’s Life, Peter Jennings

The Book of the Week is “A Reporter’s Life, Peter Jennings” edited by Kate Darnton, Kayce Freed Jennings & Lynn Sherr, published in 2007. This is a compilation of selected contents of interviews with the late ABC anchorman and documentary writer Peter Jennings, of people who knew him.

Peter Jennings’ father was a famous Canadian radio broadcaster. He mentored and primed his son to be the larger-than-life information provider he became to millions of TV viewers. In 1963, Jennings began to co-anchor a fifteen-minute TV news show at dinner time, but his lack of formal education and experience became apparent after a while. So in November 1967, he went on-location, gathering news globally. In 1970, he began to open the ABC bureau in Beirut, a cosmopolitan city until the start of its civil war in 1975. In the interest of fairness, Jennings got the Palestinian side of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He became an expert on the Middle East. This played a large role in why he was able to scoop the story of the hostage crisis at the Munich Olympics in 1972 and get a tremendous career boost.

Jennings was the consummate passionate, professional workaholic perfectionist. He politely cajoled people into answering his questions instead of interrupting them or aggressively pushing for a “gotcha” response. He was into fact-checking– he preferred to get a story right and be second reporting it than get it wrong and report it first. He had an insatiable thirst for knowledge, which he acquired through reading and talking to everyone, everyone he met. This gave him background on any and all stories he gathered and reported on. In summer 1983, ABC’s ratings caught up to NBC’s and CBS’s, and overtook them for a long time.

In 1994, Jennings made people pay attention to the genocide in Bosnia. He hated tabloid stories. When he was pressured to do them, he would try to educate rather than just gossip. During the O.J. Simpson trial, he showed the race relations aspect of the story. Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information about one of TV’s best journalists of a bygone era.

Caribbean Time Bomb

The Book of the Week is “Caribbean Time Bomb” by Robert Coram, published in 1993. This is a book on Antigua describing the Bird family’s dictatorship in the second half of the twentieth century.

Antigua’s history is largely similar to that of Haiti– an eastern Caribbean island with sugar plantations, dictators and generous financial aid from the United States to ward off overtures from nearby Communist Cuba.

In 1674, Antigua became a colony of Great Britain, whose military kept slave uprisings at bay. Abolitionism in 1834 saw the slaves freed but they had no where else to go, and needed jobs. Therefore, plantation owners got away with paying them slave wages, and didn’t have to feed, house and clothe them.

In 1951, the unions extracted major concessions from management, thanks to V.C. Bird. However, in 1968, he had his law enforcement team spray tear gas at protesting workers. Tim Hector, a journalist/activist/newspaper publisher educated the workers on what to do.

In the 1970’s, Antigua’s economy switched from one based on sugar plantations to that on tourism. The nation achieved independence in 1981, but there was still plenty of black-on-black violence and racial tension with wealthy white tourists.

In the next few decades, the country became a source of huge scandals perpetrated by the government, some of which were clandestinely aided and abetted by the CIA. It also harbored foreign-national white-collar criminals on the run. There was excessive money to be made in infrastructure projects whose planners (corrupt government workers) lined their own pockets with public funds and fed their own egos.  There was no shortage of greed, incompetence, criminality, cost overruns and delays.

Read the book to learn of the Sovereign Order of New Aragon, the would-be aristocracy of Antigua’s sister island of Redonda, the environmental destruction of it and its other sister island, Barbuda, plus the reasons the Birds were able to maintain their stranglehold on power in Antigua for so long, despite its unbelievably bad financial condition.