M1 and Me
An exclusive excerpt from Alan Greenspan's $8.5 million memoir.
(Editor's note: Penguin Press is reportedly paying $8.5 million for the memoirs of former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan. During 18 years at the Fed, until his retirement in January, Greenspan captivated Washington and the world with his pronouncements about the economy, delivered in a style that came to be known as "oracular obscurity." According to the Yale literary critic Harold Bloom—no mean practitioner himself, according to some observers—"Oracular obscurity combines the spoken traditions of Homer and Shakespeare with the writing style of postwar French pomposit é grandiloquente and just a dash of Latin American magic realism to produce and entirely new phenomenon that has reinvented congressional testimony as a literary genre." But experts say it is not clear how well the oracular-obscurist style will adapt itself to the genre of autobiography. The book is due to be published in September of next year. According to publishing industry sources, Greenspan's working title is Considerations. The publisher's working title is, Is Your Money Supply Expanding, or Are You Just Happy To See Me? This column has obtained an early sample of the contents.)
Chapter 1: The Beginning
Although developments in human biology are always—and, in the view of many experts, perhaps not un-including myself, quite properly—subject to a variety of interpretations, the evidence does tend to suggest, with only a limited amount of ambiguity, that I was born.
About the year in which this happenstance may or may not have occurred, we must be prepared to accept a somewhat larger margin of error. It is possible to extrapolate backwards from my current age of 81 and reach a tentative conclusion based on the primitive but widely accepted methodology sometimes referred to as subtraction. Such a calculation, allowing for a reasonable margin of error, would, in layman's terms, start with the year of publication, alleged to be approximately 2007, and remove years sufficient to allow for my being 81. Is that clear? No? Good. If I may continue, such a calculation would place my birth somewhere perhaps midpoint in the range of 1921 to 1931, although we have the testimony of many who have played tennis with me that I couldn't possibly be as old as that. Such anecdotal data is usually of limited value and must be regarded with extreme skepticism. However, in this case we should, I think, be prepared to give limited but not unlimited credence to the possibility that I am somewhat younger than simple subtraction might suggest.
At any rate, let me be clear about one thing. Or maybe not. Never mind. Where was I?
Considerations of birth lead inexorably to the difficult issue of parentage. Recent research has cast considerable doubt on the popular folklore that one is necessarily the child of those who one has been led to consider as one's parents. Prudence therefore dictates that we give only moderate credence to my memories of growing up in a Jewish family in New York. Although I was present throughout my childhood, until the age of 4 I lacked the necessary grounding in statistics and advanced calculus that might allow me to identify my parentage with sufficient certainty to justify inclusion of such a hypothesis in a book such as this one. However, given the relatively (in fact, completely) total lack of evidence to support any other hypothesis, we must, in my opinion, err on the side of prudence and accept the conventional view of my upbringing.
Many Americans have asked me over the years: "Who is this Prudence you seem to be so enamored of?" Concern has been expressed that, with her apparent fondness for dictation, she might have had an inappropriate and, through myself, disproportionate influence over our nation's financial affairs. I can only say, Senator—I mean, Dear Reader—that in this as in all other circumstances, I have chosen my words with great care. When, as on many occasions, I have had the honor of hectoring distinguished senators and members of Congress to "err on the side of prudence," that was exactly what I meant. I did not mean to be urging public officials to "err at the side of Prudence." Such an interpretation is both unwise as economic policy and unfair to a lovely woman who was, as she once put it, when I knew her many decades ago, "a sucker for a saxophone player." Some people find it hard to believe that Alan Greenspan used to be a professional jazz saxophonist. Where do they think I learned how to riff?
And if Penguin Press thinks that they're going to get any more from me about that relationship for their $8.5 million, they can think again. There is too much that I am eager to say about the relationship between M1, housing starts, and Chinese exports in the third quarter of last year. Let us therefore return to the nettlesome question of my birth, and agree if we can that—as a first approximation—I was born in New York in 1926. In Chapter 2 we will consider what is known, or at least known to be knowable, about my first 10 minutes of life ...
Michael Kinsley is a columnist for the Washington Post and the founding editor of Slate.
Photograph of Alan Greenspan by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.