Biography of Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan

Dr. Alan Greenspan: Economist and chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Possibly the second most powerful man in the United States, Greenspan has headed the seven-member board since 1987, striving to control inflation and increase consumer confidence in the economy.

Biography: Greenspan was born in New York City to a Jewish family in 1926, the son of a stockbroker and a saleswoman. He is said to have been a mathematical prodigy early in his life. After graduating from high school, he studied at the Juilliard School and spent a year travelling with the Henry Jerome Band as a tenor saxophone and clarinet player. He earned a Master’s degree in Economics in 1950 from New York University, then went to Columbia University to pursue his Doctorate. Before finishing however, he left to go work for the National Industrial Conference Board (NICB) as a professional economist. He ended up receiving his doctorate from NYU in 1977.

During the 50’s and 60’s Greenspan was associated with author-philosopher Ayn Rand. Greenspan met Rand through his first wife, painter Joan Mitchell. Greenspan remained friends with Rand until her death in 1982, and was greatly influenced by her philosophy of Objectivism, the pursuit of economic self-interest to the exclusion of the interests of society as a whole. He gave many speeches advocating unrestrained capitalism as a social and economic philosophy, authored many articles for Objectivist newsletters, and contributed a chapter for Rand’s 1966 book Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal. At the time Greenspan was a strong advocate that the United States embrace the Gold Standard rather than accept monetary policy set by the US central bank.

After leaving the NICB, Greenspan and bond trader William Townsend opened an economic consulting company that provided economic forecasts to large corporations and financial institutions. At that time, few corporations had professional economists on their staff.

Greenspan worked as a Director of Policy Research for Richard Nixon in the 1960s, but did not come to Washington until the 1970s, when he served as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) under Gerald Ford. The American economy of the time was influenced by the 1973 oil crisis, the imposition and subsequent repeal of wage and price controls, and the resignation of President Nixon.

After the election of Jimmy Carter, Greenspan returned to private life, although he did serve as Chairman of the nonpartisan Social Security Commission in the early 1980s. He stayed at Townsend-Greenspan until 1987. He was appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board by Ronald Reagan. In the mid-1980s, Greenspan was on the board of directors of Alcoa. On May 18, 2004, he was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve for an unprecedented fifth term.

His honorary titles include Knight Commander of the British Empire, bestowed in 2002 and Commander of the L├ęgion d’honneur (Legion of Honor). He is married to NBC journalist Andrea Mitchell. Greenspan’s term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve is set to expire in January 2006, and he is not eligible to be renominated to a sixth term in that position.


“But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade?”, Francis Boyer Lecture of The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Washington, D.C., December 5, 1996