Greenspan also defended the massive increase in household debt last year by arguing that "the rise in home and equity prices enabled the ratio of household net worth to disposable income to recover to a little above its long-term average."
You realize what the head of the nation's monetary system and the most powerful actor in the global economy is doing here? After five years of volatile stock markets, he's asking us to rely on equity prices. As for house prices, they could fall steeply as the credit binge slows down. In fact, Greenspan concedes that the buoyant housing market and boom in mortgage refinancing "are not expected to continue at their recent pace." But, of course, the central banker does not predict what will happen to house prices when that pace slows right down.
Easy money causes much long-term damage to the economy. Under Greenspan, credit growth was rampant through the late '90s, which led to excessive investment by businesses, particularly in high-technology items. This investment led to the Nasdaq boom, but it took only a small uptick in interest rates to cause the whole technology sector to collapse in 1999 and 2000.
Greenspan has never accepted the blame for creating the boom that led inevitably to the bust. The Fed's Monetary Policy Report to Congress, which also came out Wednesday and accompanies Greenspan's testimony, refers to "a glut in long-haul fiber-optic" that had built up earlier. But how did the glut ever get there in the first place? Easy money, of course.
Greenspan's policies haven't done anything to increase the nation's pitiful saving rate. In fact, his low interest rates have played a big role in keeping the nation's personal saving rate at around 2%. In the Monetary Policy Report, the Fed appears almost surprised by this. The central bank notes that households did not save more as their wealth fell during the stock market slump. Why might this be? Well, the Fed thinks the answer may be that households wanted to "take advantage of the attractive pricing and financing environment for consumer goods."