Alan Greenspan's The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting starts with three paragraphs about the financial crisis. It then adds to it a fourth paragraph about forecasting, human nature, and the state of long-term expectation.
But right when I think I know what the book is gong to be about, Greenspan grabs the wheel and turns it hard right: "underinvesting in our economic future", "our broken political system", "the case for taking action now", "unavoidable short-term pain".
These issues are completely orthogonal to those of the financial crisis, the Lesser Depression, human nature, the state of long-term expectation, and economic forecasting.
It was a call I never expected to receive. I had just returned home from indoor tennis on the chilly, windy Sunday afternoon of March 16, 2008. A senior official of the Federal Reserve Board was on the phone to alert me of the board’s just-announced invocation, for the first time in decades, of the obscure but explosive section 13 (3) of the Federal Reserve Act. Broadly interpreted, section 13 (3) empowered the Federal Reserve to lend nearly unlimited cash to virtually anybody.1 On March 16, it empowered the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to lend $29 billion to facilitate the acquisition of Bear Stearns by JPMorgan.
Bear Stearns, the smallest of the major investment banks, founded in 1923, was on the edge of bankruptcy, having run through nearly $20 billion of cash just the previous week. Its demise was the beginning of a six-month erosion in global financial stability that would culminate with the Lehman Brothers failure on September 15, 2008, triggering possibly the greatest financial crisis ever.
To be sure, the Great Depression of the 1930s involved a far greater collapse in economic activity. But never before had short-term financial markets, the facilitators of everyday commerce, shut down on so global a scale. The drying up of deeply liquid markets, literally overnight, as investors swung from euphoria to fear, dismantled vast financial complexes and led to a worldwide contraction in economic activity. The role of human nature in economic affairs was never more apparent than on that fateful day in September and in the weeks that followed.
On the face of it, the financial crisis also represented an existential crisis for economic forecasting. I began my postcrisis investigations, culminating in this book, in an effort to understand how we all got it so wrong, and what we can learn from the fact that we did. At its root, then, this is a book about forecasting human nature, what we think we know about the future and what we decide we should do about it. It’s about the short term and the long term, and perhaps most important, about the foggy place where the one turns into the other.
We are at this moment faced with a number of serious long-term economic problems, all in a sense having to do with underinvesting in our economic future. My most worrisome concern is our broken political system. It is that system on which we rely to manage our rule of law, defined in our Constitution (see Chapter 14). My fondest hope for this book is that some of the insights my investigations have yielded will be of some use in bolstering the case for taking action now, in the short term, which is in our long-term collective self-interest despite the unavoidable short-term pain it will bring. The only alternative is incalculably worse pain and human suffering later. There is little time to waste.