September 14, 2009
Who’s Blinder Now?

Ryan Grim argues that the Federal Reserve Board, over the years, has bought up or otherwise co-opted much of the economic community. With these results:

Greenspan told Congress in October 2008 that he was in a state of “shocked disbelief” and that the “whole intellectual edifice” had “collapsed.” House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) followed up: “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working.”

“Absolutely, precisely,” Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well…”

Though [Alan Blinder] is squarely within the mainstream and considered one of the great economic minds of his generation, he lasted a mere year and a half as vice chairman of the Fed, leaving in January 1996.

Rob Johnson, who watched the Blinder ordeal, says Blinder made the mistake of behaving as if the Fed was a place where competing ideas and assumptions were debated. “Sociologically, what was happening was the Fed staff was really afraid of Blinder. At some level, as an applied empirical economist, Alan Blinder is really brilliant,” says Johnson.

In closed-door meetings, Blinder did what so few do: challenged assumptions. “The Fed staff would come out and their ritual is: Greenspan has kind of told them what to conclude and they produce studies in which they conclude this. And Blinder treated it more like an open academic debate when he first got there and he’d come out and say, ‘Well, that’s not true. If you change this assumption and change this assumption and use this kind of assumption you get a completely different result.’ And it just created a stir inside — it was sort of like the whole pipeline of Greenspan-arriving-at-decisions was disrupted.”

It didn’t sit well with Greenspan or his staff. “A lot of senior staff...were pissed off about Blinder — how should we say? — not playing by the customs that they were accustomed to,” Johnson says.

Ben Bernanke didn’t make that mistake, and look where he is today. We’re in safe hands.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at September 14, 2009 11:29 AM
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