GORDON Brown moved faster than any football manager yesterday to sign up Alan Greenspan as adviser to the UK Treasury only seven hours after he had retired from his 19-year stint as chairman of the US Federal Reserve. As a PR coup it put David Cameron's recruitment of Bob Geldof as adviser on world poverty (for three hours) in the shade. Put simply, Mr Greenspan has been the most influential economist in the world; during the past two decades he has guided the American economy soundly and imaginatively through several crises and in doing so has also helped most other economies to survive a period of tranforming globalisation. The stock market crash of 1987, the bursting of the dotcom bubble at the end of the 1990s and the crisis of 9/11 were all surmounted. Mr Greenspan's principal role at the UK Treasury will be to help with the development of its thinking in areas relating to global economic change; he will receive papers and attend meetings but he will not be paid since his is an “honorary” appointment. (He is also, incidentally, an honorary knight and a Freeman of the City of London.)
Gordon Brown's association with Alan Greenspan is of long-standing. In an article in The Times last week he revealed that New Labour's decision immediately after the election of 1997 to strengthen the role of the Bank of England was influenced by Mr Greenspan. He wrote: “I first talked with him in detail in the early 1990s about the independence of central banks. It was to his credit that he was prepared to meet opposition spokesmen. And from that first set of meetings I came to rely on his wise advice.” Not everyone agrees that Greenspan deserves the global accolades that have accompanied his retirement from the Federal Reserve. There are reservations about some of his policies both in the United States and elsewhere. But that is in the nature of the world of economics. Greenspan himself once famously remarked, “If I seem unduly clear to you, you must have misunderstood what I said.” But there's no question that the advice he offers to the UK Treasury will be invaluable.