The Oracle of Seattle

The author of Greenspan’s Bubbles shuns Wall Street for Capitol Hill.

Bill Fleckenstein comes straight out of '80s investor central casting: He drives a BMW, his skin is bronzed, he keeps an elliptical machine in the foyer of his small office, and he sports a curly but well-coiffed mullet. But his office isn't blocks from Wall Street—it's a small storefront tucked between an appointment-only salon and a carpet retailer on Capitol Hill. While Fleckenstein might not fit Seattle's laid-back hipster mold, he's got considerable cachet with market-watchers, penning a regular column for MSN and being frequently quoted as a financial expert in The New York Times. And in January, he released the book Greenspan's Bubbles, assigning blame for the country's current financial woes to the former Federal Reserve chairman. The Cutting Room recently caught up with Fleckenstein over a shared dessert of cocaine and wine-cooler parfait at the Met (just kidding). C.R.: Why a book now about Alan Greenspan? B.F.: What happened was McGraw-Hill came to me and said, "We'd like you to write a book about Alan Greenspan." And I said to them, "No one's gonna read that book." I wrote the book specifically because I thought that people needed to be aware of how we got to this mess that we're in. You know, how the housing bubble evolved and what its unwinding might mean and who—that being the Fed and Greenspan—was responsible. And so the environment that's been created is one where people might be willing to take the time to try and understand that. How do you think that's being played out in Seattle? Washington Mutual pioneered one of the dumbest loans of all time. Remember those billboards [where you] could pick your own interest rate? I mean, I first saw that and I thought it was insane. Now they're paying for that. In terms of the development of downtown Seattle, where do you think that's going to go over the next decade or so? There's going to be a hell of a condo glut and some pain handed out to some people that put down payments on condos that thought they were going to make a bunch of money. [But] it seems to me that we've been pretty lucky; Downtown's developed pretty well. One area that's a bit of a wild card right now is what's going to happen in the whole South Lake Union area—all the things that Vulcan is doing. But you know, to my untrained eye it looks to me like five or 10 years from now we'll probably be pretty happy with what they do.

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