Alan Greenspan appeared Wednesday in front of the Senate committee that's voting on his renomination as Fed chair, and he turned in a bravura performance. Of course, it's probably easier to turn in bravura performances when you know that everyone in the room listening to you believes that you are a true Zen master. Nonetheless, Greenspan was surprisingly interesting on subjects like European hostility to genetically modified food and the persistent anxiety that many American workers feel in the face of technological change. He also remained definitively non-committal on the question of where, exactly, we are on the curve of that technological change, keeping open the possibility that there may still be many years ahead of rapid economic growth propelled by rapid improvements in productivity.
Of course, as always when Greenspan appears before Congress, it was fun to watch the senators try to make their own dubious economic views appear to be harmonious with the Fed chair's. But Greenspan's labyrinthine speaking style serves him well in those situations. He can begin with "Well, yes, Senator" and end with an effective "so, actually, no," without ever making anyone look bad. Which is, perhaps, one definition of a Zen master.
1. "Philip Morris announced that in the last quarter, its earnings missed estimates and its revenue grew just 2 percent. So you have a company that will have to pay the government billions for the foreseeable future, that gets dragged into court (and sometimes loses) every week, and that keeps seeing the price of its key product rise because of taxes, and that's making less money than expected. It's all The Insider's fault, no doubt."
2. "Business Week reported that among the myriad class-action lawsuits filed against Microsoft in the wake of Judge Jackson's finding is a brief claiming that Microsoft's principal place of business is Texas and another describing Microsoft as a supplier of 'generic drugs.' That brief adds that the term API stands for 'active pharmaceutical ingredient.' (It doesn't.) I'm waiting for the brief accusing Microsoft of running Area 51 and being responsible for the Roswell Incident. In that brief, API will presumably stand for 'alien probe investigation.'"
3. "Before entering into negotiations for a possible three-way deal with Warner-Lambert and American Home Products, Procter & Gamble reportedly made an unsolicited bid for razor giant Gillette. An article in TheStreet.com this week said that 'the French company' had rebuffed P&G. Well, we always thought that Boston was the Paris of Massachusetts. But who knew that it was actually the Paris of France?"
4. "The best ad for financial advice right now is one for something called the Dines Letter, which will cost you only $195 a year. At the top of the ad, in capital letters, are the words 'Buy Internets!' And James Dines, the editor of the newsletter, is called '"The Original Internet Bug" (TOIB)!' You could not make this stuff up if you tried."
5. "Merrill Lynch announced dazzling earnings in the latest quarter, propelled not only by a much-anticipated boom in its investment banking business but also by a remarkable influx of $36 billion in new assets from investors. The odd thing, of course, is that people keep pouring money into Merrill, even though its market strategists have been among the most bearish--and therefore most wrong--of any major bank in recent years. Never underestimate the power of having a bull as your corporate symbol."
6. "Latest sign that the apocalypse ... no, Y2K came and went, so this is just the latest sign that things are getting too weird: The Wall Street Journal headlined a recent article: 'Web Frenzy Sweeps Firms Selling Goods for Cleaning.' Let's pray the last word in that headline never gets changed to 'Burial.'"
7. "Ben & Jerry's ice-cream shop owners from across the country rallied this week to protest a possible takeover of Ben & Jerry's by a company that has yet to be identified. The franchisees fear that the new owner will wreck Ben & Jerry's commitment to 'social responsibility,' presumably by doing things like changing the name of Cherry Garcia to Bing Cherry Crosby and the name of Rainforest Crunch to Burn the Rainforest To the Ground Surprise."