WASHINGTON -- Ask Lawrence B. Lindsey of the Federal Reserve Board to sum up his stance on monetary policy, and his reply has a "Thirtysomething" ring to it:
"I'm basically an M2 kind of guy."
It's doubtful that Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan would ever state his views quite that way. But then, Mr. Lindsey, at 38, is the youngest member of the Fed. His style is breezy and gregarious -- the antithesis of the stereotypical cautious Fed official.
Pragmatic Turn of Mind
Since joining the Fed last November, Mr. Lindsey has jumped into the job with exuberance and has quickly earned a reputation as a blunt, pragmatic policymaker.
Perhaps he's determined to confound the critics who almost derailed his nomination.
When President Bush selected him for the post in January 1991, Mr. Lindsey was a 36-year-old White House aide and the youngest person ever nominated to the Fed.
Though his credentials were extraordinary for a man of his age, Mr. Lindsey was widely criticized as too inexperienced and too doctrinate for such a plum appointment.
His nomination became so controversial that it remained in limbo for 10 1/2 months -- which is about a month longer than he has been on the job.
He had spent a year as the Bush administration's point man on banking issues. But chiefly he was known as the young Harvard University economics professor who wrote a book defending the Reagan administration's supply-side tax cuts in 1981, and as a protege of conservative Harvard economist Martin Feldstein.
Mr. Feldstein took Mr. Lindsey under his wing when the future Fed governor entered graduate school, and instantly wowed his student.
"He could do logarithms in his head," Mr. Lindsey says. "I was awestruck."
Once at the Fed, Mr. Lindsey hit the ground running, garnering headlines and gaining exposure through dozens of speaking engagements. He spoke up at public meetings and argued that monetary policy should be conducted by targeting growth one year at a time rather than in multiyear cycles.
Tough Stand on CRA
Last May, in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots, Mr. Lindsey blasted his way into the consciousness of the banking industry by delivering a stern lecture on the sensitive topic of community reinvestment.
Like it or not, the thrust of banking regulation in the 1990s will be fairness, not safety and soundness as it was in the 1980s, he told the California Bankers Association.
As a result, he said, bankers must make extraordinary efforts to reach out to minority communities of face tighter regulation. Though some detractors called his proposed solutions native, most thought his perceptions were acute.
Activists Aren't Exempt
But Mr. Lindsey doesn't limit the tough talk to bankers. When speaking to community groups, he frequently lectures them to improve relations with banks.
At the end of one such appearance in Washington, "One question was, |Why tell us this? We thought you were going to come here and criticize the banks,'" Mr. Lindsey recalled. "I like to make myself universally unpopular, I guess."
His supporters are delighted with this performance.
"I thought Larry Lindsey was given a bum rap," said Lyle Gramley, a former Fed governor who is now consulting economist to the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. "He is taking his place as an effective governor.
"I don't think he's anywhere near as extreme and doctrinate as one might have gathered if you just read the press stories," Mr. Gramley added.
Promotions Taken in Stride
For his part, Mr. Lindsey sees nothing strange in his rapid ascent from Harvard professor to White House adviser and then to central banker.
"The President wouldn't have nominated me if he feld those criticisms were correct," Mr. Lindsey said. "I don't think they're correct. My wife doesn't; my mother doesn't."
As chance would have it, nobody asked Mr. Lindsey's wife or mother. The hubbub over whether he had the seasoning for a Fed post had barely died down when another controversy erupted.
In the Senate Banking Committee, the hot question had become: Should Larry Lindsey -- bred in New York and schooled in New England -- be put on the Fed to represent the Richmond district?
Flap over Residency
Technically, Mr. Lindsey met the residency requirement, which is intended to ensure that the Fed board is geographically diverse.
He has resided in Virginia on and off since 1981, and steadily since 1989. But several Senators - notably Paul Sarbanes, D-Md. - have complained that the administration has been cavalier about the rule, and wanted to crack down, starting with Mr. Lindsey.
His confirmation hearing was delayed until July. "He was obviously worried about it. He knew he was in for a fight," said James Pinkerton, a former colleague at White House who is now with the Bush-Quayle campaign.
But among friends, he defused the tension with humor, affecting a thick southern drawl. "He had a tendency to walk around the Old Executive Office Building saying, |Yes, suh,'" Mr. Pinkerton recalled.
Mr. Lindsey eventually won the committee's recommendation, on a 16-to-5 vote. The Senate approved his nomination on a voice vote.
The Consumer Beat
Once Mr. Lindsey was on board, Fed Chairman Greenspan put him in charge of consumer issues. The Fed enforces a battery of consumer protection statutes.
Mr. Lindsey admits that he wasn't enamored of the task. But he has warmed up to it.
"I think it's going to be one of the central focuses of regulatory attention during the 1990s," Mr. Lindsey said. He has urged bankers to expand small-business lending and send employees into branches as undercover "testers" to weed out biased lending practices.
He doesn't make any secret of his distate for the 1991 banking bill.
"We've seen a law written which is about the worst way you can do things," Mr. Lindsey said. More and more, we're substituting rules for reason."
Concern for Homeowners
He is particularly riled about a recently proposed rule to establish loan-to-value ratios for real estate. He worries that rigid rules hurt residential real estate, and could "destroy home ownership in America.
"I do not know what prompted Congress, but had they talked to their constituents who are interested in buying homes, I don't think they would have legislated on this," Mr. Lindsey said.
Though he's comfortable firing such salvos at Congress, Mr. Lindsey never quite loses sight of the rough time he had getting confirmed.
Propped up on a bookshelf in his office is a well-thumbed paperback called "How to Speak Southern." It was a gag gift from a friend during the protracted confirmation process.
Did it come in handy? Mr. Lindsey laughs. "Maybe not handy enough. I don't know maybe he didn't give it to me in a timely fashion."