Tag Archives: Tim Geithner

Czars, Kings, and Presidents

By James Kwak

Over the years, Tim Geithner has come in for a lot of well-deserved criticism: for putting banks before homeowners, for lobbying for Citigroup when it wanted to buy Wachovia, for denying even the possibility of taking over failed banks, and so on. The release of his book, whatever it’s called, has revived these various debates. Geithner is certainly not the man I would want making crucial decisions for our country. But it’s also important to remember that he was only an upper manager. The man who called the shots was his boss: Barack Obama.

That’s the theme of Jesse Eisinger’s column this week. I’m on Eisinger’s email list, and he described the tendency to focus on Tim Geithner—while ignoring the role of the president—as “If only the Tsar knew what the Cossacks are doing!” I wasn’t familiar with the Russian version, but I’ve always been fond of the seventeenth-century French version. In September 2009, for example, Simon and I wrote this about the financial reform debate: 

“During the reign of Louis XIV, when the common people complained of some oppressive government policy, they would say, ‘If only the king knew . . . .’ Occasionally people will make similar statements about Barack Obama, blaming the policies they don’t like on his lieutenants.

“But Barack Obama, like Louis XIV before him, knows exactly what is going on.”

Continue reading

Geithner to Dimon: Resign From The Board Of the New York Fed

By Simon Johnson

In an interview Thursday on PBS NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner had the following exchange:

“JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think Jamie Dimon should be off the board [of the New York Federal Reserve Board]?

TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Well, that’s a question he’ll have to make and the Fed will have to make. But again, on the basic point, which is it is very important, particularly given the damage caused by the crisis, that our system of oversight and safeguards and the enforcement authorities have not just the resources they need, but they are perceived to be above any political influence and have the independence and the ability to make sure these reforms are tough and effective so we protect the American people, again, from a crisis like this. And we’re going to, we’re going to do that.”

In the diplomatic language of Treasury communications, Mr. Geithner just told Jamie Dimon to resign from the New York Fed board (here is the current board composition).  It looks bad – and it is bad – to have him on the board of this key part of the Federal Reserve System at a time when his bank is under investigation with regard to its large trading losses and the apparent failure of its risk management system.  (Update: Mr. Dimon is on the Management and Budget Committee of the NY Fed board; here is the committee’s charter, which includes reviewing and endorsing “the framework for compensation of the Bank’s senior executives (Senior Vice President and above)”.)

Mr. Geithner’s call is a major and perhaps unprecedented development which can go in one of two ways. Continue reading

The Banking Emperor Has No Clothes

By Simon Johnson

In a major speech earlier this week to an American Bankers Association conference, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner laid out his view of what went wrong in the financial sector prior to 2008, how the crisis was handled 2008-10, and what is now needed with regard to implementation of reforms.  As chair of the Financial Stability Oversight Council and the only senior member of President Obama’s original economic team remaining in place, Mr. Geithner’s influence with regard to the banking system is second to none.

Unfortunately, there are three major mistakes in Mr. Geithner’s speech: his history is completely wrong; his logic is deeply flawed; and his interpretation of the Dodd-Frank reform does not mesh with the legal facts regarding how the failure of a global megabank could be handled.  Added together, this suggests one of our most powerful policymakers is headed very much in the wrong direction. Continue reading

Geithner’s Gamble

By Simon Johnson.  This post comprises the first few paragraphs of a column now running at Project Syndicate: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/johnson17/English

In a recent interview, United States Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner laid out his view of the nature of world economic growth and the role of the US financial sector. It is a deeply disturbing vision, one that amounts to a huge, uninformed gamble with the future of the American economy – and that suggests that Geithner remains the senior public official worldwide who is most in thrall to the self-serving ideology of big banks.

Geithner argues that the world will now experience a major “financial deepening,” owing to growing demand in emerging markets for financial products and services. He is thinking, of course, of “middle-income” countries like India, China, and Brazil. And he is right to emphasize that all have made terrific progress and now offer great opportunities for the rising middle class, which wants to accumulate savings, borrow more easily (for productive investment, home purchases, education, etc), and, more generally, smooth out consumption.

But then Geithner takes a leap. He wants US banks to take the lead in these countries’ financial development….(column continues at Project Syndicate.)

Tim Geithner’s Ninth Political Life

By Simon Johnson

In modern American life, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner stands out as amazingly resilient and remarkably lucky – despite presiding over or being deeply involved in a series of political debacles, he has gone from strength to strength.  After at least eight improbably bounce backs, he might seem unassailable.  But his latest mistake – blocking Elizabeth Warren from heading the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – may well prove politically fatal.

Geithner was a junior but key member of the US Treasury team that badly mishandled the early days of the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and received widespread criticism (Life #1).  He was promoted as a result and thereafter enjoyed a meteoric rise.

As President of the New York Federal Reserve from 2003, and de facto head of the government’s financial intelligence service, he completely failed to spot the problems developing in and around the country’s financial markets; nothing about this embarrassing track record has since stood in his way (Life #2).  He subsequently became Hank Paulson’s Wall Street point person for one of the most comprehensively bungled bailouts of all time – the Troubled Asset Relief Program, TARP, which in fall 2008 first appalled Congress with its intentions and then wasn’t used at all as advertised (Life #3). Continue reading

Greek Bailout, Lehman Deceit, And Tim Geithner

By Simon Johnson

We live in an age of unprecedented bailouts.  The Greek package of support from the eurozone this weekend marks a high tide for the principle that complete, unconditional, and fundamentally dangerous protection must be extended to creditors whenever something “big” gets into trouble.

The Greek bailout appears on the scene just as the US Treasury is busy attempting to trumpet the success of TARP – and, by implication, the idea that massive banks should be saved through capital injections and other emergency measures.  Officials come close to echoing what the Lex column of the Financial Times already argued, with some arrogance, in fall 2009: the financial crisis wasn’t so bad – no depression resulted and bonuses stayed high, so why do we need to change anything at all?

But think more closely about the Greek situation and draw some comparisons with what we continue to learn about how Lehman Brothers operated (e.g., in today’s New York Times).  Continue reading

Contradicting Secretary Geithner

By Simon Johnson

Speaking Thursday morning on the Today show, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner insisted on two points:

1. If the bank rescue of 2008-09 had been handled in any other way – for example, being tougher on bankers – the costs to the real economy would have been substantially higher. 

“again, what was the choice the president had to make? He had to decide whether he was gonna act to fix [the banking system] or stand back because it might be more popular not to have to do that kind of stuff, and that would have been calamitous for the American economy, much, much worse than what we went through already.”

2. The reform legislation currently before Congress would end all concerns regarding Too Big To Fail in the future. 

“The president’s not gonna sign a bill that doesn’t have strong enough teeth.”

In 13 Bankers, we disagree strongly with point #1 (see this excerpt) and find point #2 so at odds with reality that it is scary.  Friday morning, also on the Today Show, I have a brief opportunity to suggest a different narrative. Continue reading