Tag: Geithner

Firefighter Arson And Our Macroeconomic Policymakers

Firefighter arson is a serious problem.  The U.S. Fire Administration, part of Homeland Security, concluded in 2003, “A very small percentage of otherwise trustworthy firefighters cause the very flames they are dispatched to put out” (p.1). Illustrative and shocking anecdotes are on pp. 9-15 of that report, as well as here and here.

Macroeconomic policy making now has a similar issue to confront. Continue reading “Firefighter Arson And Our Macroeconomic Policymakers”

Secretary Geithner’s China Strategy: A Viewer’s Guide

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Treasury Secretary Geithner – and Secretary of State Clinton – meet with a high-level Chinese delegation.  (Could someone please update the Treasury’s schedule of events? At 7am on Monday it still shows last week’s agenda; update, 9am, this is now fixed – thanks).

According to official previews (i.e., the apparent contents of background briefings given to wire services), the economic topics are China’s concerns about the value of the dollar (i.e., their investments in the U.S.) and the amount of debt that the U.S. will issue this year.

This is absurd. Continue reading “Secretary Geithner’s China Strategy: A Viewer’s Guide”

Today’s Foundation, Tomorrow’s Crisis: The Geithner-Summers Proposals

Writing in the Washington Post this morning, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers outline a five point plan for dealing with the underlying problems in our financial system, entitled A New Financial Foundation. 

The authors are not completely clear on what they think caused the current crisis, but you can back out some points from their reasoning – and the implicit view seems quite at odds with reality.

  1. Their view: Regulation is overly focused on safety and soundness of individual banks.  Reality: There was a complete failure of safety and soundness supervision.  This must be fundamental to any financial system – without this, you’ll get mush every time. Continue reading “Today’s Foundation, Tomorrow’s Crisis: The Geithner-Summers Proposals”

Pierre Bourdieu, Tim Geithner, and Cultural Capital

France in the 1960s and 1970s was the source of a tremendous amount of new philosophical, literary, and critical thinking – Foucault, Derrida, Lévi-Strauss, Baudrillard, Barthes, etc. But in my opinion, the most important member of that intellectual generation was the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. In Distinction, Bourdieu’s best-known work, he described how economic class is reinforced by cultural capital: economic elites create cultural distinctions, and pass on to their children the ability to make those distinctions, in order to use cultural sophistication as a means of perpetuating class dominance. This may sound abstract, but think about the example that is the subject of Bourdieu’s The Love of Art: museums. Upper-class parents take their children to fine art museums and teach them how to talk about Rembrandt, Monet, and Picasso; later in college, job interviews, and cocktail parties, the ability to talk about Rembrandt, Monet, and Picasso is one of the markers that people use, consciously or unconsciously, to identify people as being from their own tribe. (Note that democratizing museums – making them open to anyone – doesn’t undermine cultural capital, because the key is not looking at paintings, but learning how to talk about them.)

We used the term “cultural capital” in our Atlantic article as a way of describing the influence of Wall Street over Washington. By this, we meant that one of the primary means by which Wall Street got its way in Washington was by creating and propagating the understanding – among sophisticated, educated, cultured people, as opposed to “populists” or the “rabble” that showed up at anti-globalization protests – that what was good for Wall Street was good for the country as a whole. We didn’t mean to say that old-fashioned campaign contributions and lobbying did not play an important role. (We did, however, say that we thought out-and-out corruption of the Jack Abramoff variety was probably a minor factor – not because we have any insider knowledge one way or the other, but simply because such criminal behavior was simply unnecessary given the other levers available.) But I don’t think that implicit quid pro quo bargaining is a sufficient explanation, because I believe it entirely possible that there are honest politicians and civil servants who really, truly believe that they are acting in the public interest when they come to the aid of the largest banks.

Tim Geithner may very well be such a man.

Continue reading “Pierre Bourdieu, Tim Geithner, and Cultural Capital”

Two Hearings On Banks Today

This morning, by coincidence, there are parallel hearings on Capitol Hill dealing with the nature of our banking system and attempts to stabilize it.  In the Cannon House Office Building, starting at 9:30am, the Joint Economic Committee will hear from Thomas Hoenig, Joseph Stiglitz, and me, on whether Big Finance is too big to save (see yesterday’s preview for details).

At 10am over on the Senate side (Dirksen Senate Office Building), Secretary Geithner will appear before the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel.  We preview that event this morning on The Hearing, with a discussion of the context, the latest numbers, and our forecast of the ideas that will be expressed; it’s a viewer’s guide – but one that you can talk to by sending in comments (and, most important, your questions for the Secretary). Continue reading “Two Hearings On Banks Today”

Will It Work?

Leaving aside the question of subsidies, which has gotten piles of attention on the Internet, Simon and I are skeptical that the Geithner Plan will achieve its basic objective: getting enough toxic assets off of bank balance sheets to restore the financial system to normal functioning. We discuss this in today’s Los Angeles Times op-ed, although our regular readers could probably fill in the blanks by themselves.

Update: At 2:30 PM Eastern today, I’ll be on a live chat at Seeking Alpha with Felix Salmon and possibly Brad DeLong and Mark Thoma discussing the Geithner plan. Salmon is strongly against, Delong is moderately (strongly?) for, Thoma is moderately for.

Update 2: At The New Republic, Simon discusses one plausible scenario under which the Geithner Plan is the first step in a comprehensive bank rescue strategy. But he’s skeptical that we will see the other necessary steps.

Update 3: Chat is done; replay is here.

By James Kwak

Listening To The Secretary

Secretary Geithner spoke with NPR’s Adam Davidson today and the result, on the Planet Money podcast, is a helpful guide to official thinking.

The Secretary’s best line, at around the 18 minute mark is, “If you underestimate the problem; if you do too little, too late; if you don’t move aggressively enough; if you are not open and honest in trying to assess the true cost of this; then you will face a deeper long (sic) lasting crisis.”  Continue reading “Listening To The Secretary”

No Wishful Thinking

At management team meetings at my old company, there was a slogan I was known for: “No wishful thinking.” I would trot it out whenever I felt like our expectations for the future (say, our sales projections, or our product delivery dates) were being influenced by our desires for the future. Let’s say, for example, that you have to hit your sales target, raise more money, or lay people off. It is very easy to plan around hitting your sales target, because the other options are unpleasant. But that would clearly be folly.

I thought of this when listening to an interview Adam Posen did for Monday’s Planet Money (beginning around the 6-minute mark). The Geithner Plan had not yet been announced, but Posen already had the right diagnosis: wishful thinking. The administration, on his analysis, is hoping that it will be able to turn the economy around without having to take tough measures with the banks.

Martin Wolf puts it this way:

[H]oping for the best is what one sees in . . . the new plans for fixing the banking system. . . .

The banking programme seems to be yet another child of the failed interventions of the past one and a half years: optimistic and indecisive.

Continue reading “No Wishful Thinking”

So Now We Know . . .

Counting down to the announcement of the Geithner plan, the New York Times has this account of how it came into being (and why it should be called the “Geithner plan,” although maybe Larry Summers is hiding behind him):

In the end, Mr. Geithner largely prevailed in opposing tougher conditions on financial institutions that were sought by presidential aides, including David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, according to administration and Congressional officials.

Mr. Geithner, who will announce the broad outlines of the plan on Tuesday morning, successfully fought against more severe limits on executive pay for companies receiving government aid.

He resisted those who wanted to dictate how banks would spend their rescue money. And he prevailed over top administration aides who wanted to replace bank executives and wipe out shareholders at institutions receiving aid.

I’m not a huge fan of executive compensation caps, as I think they are something of a sideshow. But I think the general approach of playing nice with banks and their shareholders is a mistake, because it leads to intransparent subsidies like the privately-financed bad bank is sure to be. (If the government is guaranteeing assets bought by private investors, as is widely rumored, it’s still a subsidy; it’s just not as obvious as writing a check.)

Continue reading “So Now We Know . . .”

Secretary Geithner’s Speech: A Viewer’s Guide

At 11am this morning, from the Cash Room at the Treasury, Secretary Geithner will lay out his vision (and hopefully some convincing details) regarding how to get the US financial system back on its feet.  What should we listen for as indications that this is heading in the right direction? Continue reading “Secretary Geithner’s Speech: A Viewer’s Guide”

Ten Questions For Secretary Geithner

Next week, Tim Geithner will have an opportunity to explain his plans for the financial system (Cash Room of the Treasury, Monday, 12:30pm), and defend these plans in front of the Senate Banking Committee (Tuesday, starting at 10am) and Senate Budget Committee (Wednesday, also from 10am). 

Here are the questions (in bold) we would ask him.  And, just in case any of you are involved in preparing the Secretary’s briefing book, we also suggest some answers. Continue reading “Ten Questions For Secretary Geithner”

Framing the Geithner Bank Plan

What are your expectations for the impending Geithner Bank Plan?  Listening carefully to the messaging from the top, you are probably hoping for an increase in bank lending.  In fact, over the past few weeks, Congressional leaders (e.g., at the Senate Budget Committee hearing last week) and the President (e.g., see the penultimate paragraph of last week’s TV address) have repeatedly insisted that, going forward, banks that receive government support should increase their lending.

And you’ve probably seen matching statements from the banks recently, either (a) explaining why the fall in lending was not their fault, or (b) celebrating the fact that, against all odds, they did manage to increase loans in the last quarter. 

So the perception has been created that the new Bank Plan will succeed if it raises bank lending, and that it can be judged by this metric.

But this is the wrong framing of the problem.  Or, perhaps it was the right framing for last October, when credit supply was severely disrupted, but it is an out-of-date and perhaps dangerous way to think about what is now needed. Continue reading “Framing the Geithner Bank Plan”