Bidding frenzy erupts for Greenspan memoirs

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The Independent Online

For 18 years, America has craned an ear for every word from Alan Greenspan, and his retirement as chairman of the Federal Reserve last month appears not to have dented the obsessive interest.

So much so that the bidding war for his as-yet-unwritten memoirs has reportedly passed $5m (£3m) and some pundits are predicting he could net an $8m advance.

The tale of his long stay at the crossroads of US political and economic power is being hawked round publishers by the man who negotiated a $12m advance for the former president Bill Clinton, and book firms including Random House are among those said to have signalled their interest.

Some sceptical observers have described the bidding as an example of the "irrational exuberance" of which Mr Greenspan once warned in another context.

The 79 year old retired at the end of January with his reputation at its height. Publishers salivating over his memoirs hope that he will expose the economic competence, or incompetence, of the four presidents under whom he has served.

What the winning bidder will be praying Mr Greenspan does not deliver is a typically cryptic economic treatise. Wall Street bankers are used to interpreting his Delphic statements - and Mr Greenspan once joked that "if you think you understood me, it's because I misspoke" - but it is possible that the publisher will insist that a ghost writer is employed to ensure the book has wider appeal.

Robert Barnett, the lawyer who negotiated advances totalling $20m for the White House stories of President Clinton and his wife Hillary, hopes the book will become a compulsory coffee table adornment for businessmen and financiers across America and beyond. Mr Greenspan has achieved god-like status for his cool responses to a string of crises, from the Wall Street crash of 1987 to the September 11 attacks. "Alan Greenspan was one of the most revered and successful public figures of our time, and there are many who are anxiously awaiting what he wants to say," Mr Barnett said. "But we are at the very beginning of the process and it is too early to talk numbers."

Mr Greenspan retains his hold over Wall Street, even as Ben Bernanke, his successor as Fed chairman, prepares for his first testimony to Congress today. His reported comments at an after-dinner speaking engagement moved the US stock market last week.

As well as writing a book, Mr Greenspan is using his "retirement" to set up a consultancy business and has also been engaged as an unpaid adviser to Gordon Brown.