Tag Archives: Tim Geithner

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

Tom Hoenig For Treasury

The White House is floating, ever so gently, the notion that they are open to nominations for the position of “Tim Geithner’s Successor.”

It’s not clear if they mean this job is likely to be advertised formally sometime in 2012 or 20 minutes after the November midterms.  Nor is it obvious if this is a real request for proposals – it could be just an effort to make critics “put up or shut up.”

Fortunately, there is an entirely plausible successor already in waiting, ready now or whenever the president finally realizes the need to fundamentally change banking policy. Continue reading

Secretary Geithner Needs To Get With The Program

The details of the new White House banking policy are somewhat vague and in places borderline incoherent – e.g., what exactly does “The President’s proposal will place broader limits on the excessive growth of the market share of liabilities at the largest financial firms…” mean (from point 2 in yesterday’s short and poorly edited statement)?

And the size restrictions currently in pencil on the back on an envelope near the president’s desk are almost certainly too lenient; the goal should not be a return to the status quo of 2007 or thereabouts - the clock must be rolled back much further and “too big to fail” completely removed from the financial map.

But the general principle behind our “Volcker Rule” is clear.  Here’s what President Obama said, “Banks will no longer be allowed to own, invest, or sponsor hedge funds, private equity funds, or proprietary trading operations for their own profit, unrelated to serving their customers.”

Whatever you think of that notion or the exact wording, this clearly implies that banks will get smaller.  Secretary Geithner apparently does not get this (transcript). Continue reading

Lessons Learned From The 1990s

In the 1990s, the Clinton Administration amassed a great deal of experience fighting financial crises around the world.

Some of the U.S. Treasury’s specific advice was controversial – e.g., pressing Korea to open its capital markets to foreign investors at the height of the crisis – but the broad approach made sense: Fix failing financial systems up-front, because this is the best opportunity to address the underlying problems that helped produce the crisis (e.g., banks taking excessive risks).  If you delay attempts to reform until economic recovery is underway, the banks and other key players are powerful again, real change is harder, and future difficulties await.

In a major retrospective speech to the American Economic Association in 2000, Larry Summers – the primary crisis-fighting strategist – put it this way: Continue reading

What’s Wrong with a Phone Call?

Yesterday Simon pointed out the AP story highlighting Tim Geithner’s many contacts with a few key Wall Street executives — primarily Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, Vikram Pandit, and Richard Parsons — while leading the government’s rescue efforts as Treasury secretary. It’s certainly useful for the nation’s top economic official to talk to people in the banking industry, and it’s also useful for him to talk to banks that are being bailed out by the government. But the AP story did come up with a few important distinctions. Geithner talked to these Wall Street executives more than the key people in Congress — Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd — that he needs to pass his regulatory reform plan. And he talked to them much more than to, say, Bank of America, which is equally big and equally in debt to the government. So to be clear, Geithner is talking to these people more than dictated by the requirements of his job (or he’s not talking to Ken Lewis enough).

Still, you could say, what’s wrong with that? Can’t Tim Geithner talk to whomever he wants to talk to?

Continue reading

Larry Summers, Economic Recovery, And Ben Bernanke

In a memo to Congress on Tuesday, Larry Summers – the head of the White House National Economic Council – laid out his view of where we are and what is likely to happen next in our economic recovery.

His tone was more upbeat than we’ve heard in recent utterances, although he has been heading in this direction for a while – contrast this April speech with this appearance in July.

What is beginning to turn the economy around?  Summers claims great effects from the fiscal stimulus Recovery Act, but much of that money has not yet been spent. 

He also puts weight on “an aggressive effort to tackle the foreclosure crisis.”  There have been sensible steps in that direction, but so far the effects have been decidedly modest.

The main explanation has to be that the administration prevented the financial system from collapsing.  In an economy as large and diverse as that of the United States – with much more government spending than at the time of the Great Depression – as long as the entire provision of credit does not disintegrate, we will recover.

Summers refers to “A Financial Stabilization Plan”, but this is ex post grandiosity.  In fact, the government simply demonstrated unflinching support for all big financial firms as currently constituted.  We the taxpayer effectively guaranteed all these firms debts, unconditionally.  Once the market figured out that the Treasury, Federal Reserve and other officials could pull this off, the panic was over.

But this victory brings also real danger. Continue reading