Alan Greenspan: Biography & Works

Instructor: Matthew Helmer

Matt is an upcoming Ph.D. graduate and archaeologist. He has taught Anthropology, Geography, and Art History at the university level.

Alan Greenspan is one of the most influential economists of our lifetime. In this lesson, you will learn about his life, works, and contributions to contemporary American history.

Who is Alan Greenspan?

Economists often work in the background of politics, but their work impacts our daily lives more than you might be aware. In the United States, arguably no economist impacted public policy more than Alan Greenspan. He was the Chairman of the Federal Reserve between 1987 and 2006, and he was appointed by four separate presidents. Greenspan promotes economic conservatism, de-regulation, and free market, or laissez faire, capitalism.

Greenspan's Early Life

Alan Greenspan
Alan Greenspan

Alan Greenspan was born March 6, 1926, in New York City into a family of stock brokers and financial workers. After earning his Ph.D. in economics from the prestigious New York University, Greenspan worked on Wall Street and advised domestic policy issues as early as 1968 under Republican President Richard Nixon. Greenspan later helped in advising economic policies under Democratic President Carter. Greenspan's ability to do bi-partisan work is one of the accomplishments he is best known for, and he continued to work for administrations of both parties throughout his life.

Greenspan and the Federal Reserve

Greenspan's most significant work was accomplished while he was Chairman of the Federal Reserve, which is the central bank of the United States. The Reserve's most important job is to make sure U.S. currency remains stable, and the organization has been around since 1913. Factors that the Federal Reserve helps to control include inflation, overall supply of U.S. currency, and the relationship between the United States government and private banks. It can also bail out certain banks and businesses if their collapse could potentially effect the security of the nation. As you can imagine, heading this organization is a tremendous responsibility, so Federal Reserve chairs are appointed by the president. Greenspan was first appointed the position by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, and he also served under George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush until retiring in 2006.

During Greenspan's tenure as Federal Reserve chairman, he was remarkably adept at controlling inflation, sometimes at the cost of increasing unemployment. Under his policies, the United States weathered several recessions and the World Trade Center attacks thanks in great part to his anti-inflation ideology. Greenspan is also notable for his advocacy for de-regulation and laissez faire, or free market, capitalism. He was influenced by economic conservatives like Ayn Rand, who believed that markets governed themselves best and that government regulation stops economic innovation. As we will discuss below, Greenspan's economic ideology contributed to extraordinary economic success, but it may have also had unintended economic consequences that still affect us to this day.

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