Tuesday Reads: Tim Geithner in Control of Obama’s Economic Policy, and Other News

Good Morning!! The snow is slowly melting outside my house, and I’ve come down with Spring fever! No more snowstorms please, Mother Nature. Anyway, at least for this week, we are getting temperatures in the 40s and 50s. It is going to be chilly again tomorrow, but after that–springlike! After the frigid winter we’ve lived through, these temperatures feel amazing. Maybe this will make the bad news from DC a little more bearable. I hope so.

This morning I want to focus on an important article that comes via David Dayen at FDL. It’s a piece at The New Republic about Timothy Geithner, written by Noam Scheiber. First a little aside.

Back in November, I wrote a post about the axing of Obama’s economic team and noted that Geither was the last man standing.

In that post, I quoted Andrew Cockburn of Counterpunch:

If Barack Obama needed any help in guiding the Democratic Party over the cliff he certainly got it from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Voters have told pollsters that the state of the economy, their own in particular, was their principle concern. Though impelled by the specter of unemployment and homelessness, the image of Geithner, toady to the bankers, can only have encouraged them in their fury. A sensible president would therefore already be running out the plank prior to giving this disastrous financial overseer an encouraging shove between the shoulders. But in this case, we may not be that lucky. CounterPunch can reveal the crucial role played in these matters by a group close to the President but unknown to the outside world.

A knowledgeable insider told Cockburn that despite Larry Summers’ reputation as a corporate tool,

“Larry has some idea that there is more to the economy than just the welfare of large banks,” this official suggests. “He did push for a larger stimulus and more jobs programs, for example. Tim just cares about banks.”

I then went on to indulge in a little conspiracy theorizing based on Cockburn’s information. But that’s beside the point right now. The point is that after writing that post, I came to the conclusion that Geithner was running economic policy in the Obama administration.

Getting back to the article at TNR, Scheiber purports to explain how Geithner survived the massacre of the economists. One interesting tidbit in the lengthy article is about Geithner’s relationship with Larry Summers, who acted as Geithner’s mentor and patron early on.

In 1993, Geithner caught the attention of [a] prominent patron—Larry Summers—whom Bill Clinton had appointed as his treasury undersecretary. Summers took a personal interest in Geithner’s career and promoted him each time he rose through the Treasury ranks.

And then during the Obama administration, Geithner apparently stabbed his patron in the back, becoming President Obama’s primary economic adviser–even though Geithner isn’t an economist. (Neither is anyone else on Obama current “economic team,” as Dakinikat frequently points out.)

Geithner actually sounds a lot like Obama–he’s really good at sucking up and convincing people he’s on their side–until he slides in the knife. Regarding Geithner’s time at the IMF, Scheiber writes:

According to former co-workers, Geithner was deft at bringing skeptical colleagues on board. One technique involved homing in on possible dissidents and absorbing their suggestions into his proposals.

Sound familiar? A bit more:

Perhaps most important, Geithner was scrupulously attuned to the temperament of the boss. Like Obama, he evinced a strong aversion to blather. During meetings with the president, he would say little, and usually not until the end, when his opinion was solicited. “I thought [Geithner] got the president really well,” says a former administration official who interacted with him on nonfinancial matters. “When he was in trouble, I said to someone, ‘He just needs to hold on. He’ll be fine with Obama. Once they get to know each other, they’re like the same person.’”

Scheiber describes an epic struggle between Geithner and Summers over how to deal with the banks that had crashed the U.S. economy. Summers argued for some form of nationalization, while Geithner claimed the banks just needed more capital and they could recover.

If Geithner was right, the capital shortfall was much more manageable than Summers feared. The banks might be able to fill it with minimal government help, simply by selling shares to investors. But, if he was wrong, the banks would stumble along in a kind of vampire state, sucking credit from the economy and exacerbating the recession. In the worst case, fears of insolvency could trigger a modern-day version of Depression-era bank runs.

Hey, wait a minute. That sounds like what is happening to our economy right now. But, never mind, Geithner won the battle that counted–the battle for Obama’s favor.

Part of what Geithner convinced Obama of was “that it was ultimately better politics to risk a backlash with unemployment at 10 percent than to feed the backlash and watch the economy shrink further.” So it’s Geithner we have to thank for the new normal of high unemployment, poverty, and suffering among the middle, working, and lower classes.

Finally, what horrified David Dayen was Geithner’s out-front claim that–in Dayen’s words, “what’s good for Wall Street is good for America.” Geithner:

“I don’t have any enthusiasm for … trying to shrink the relative importance of the financial system in our economy as a test of reform, because we have to think about the fact that we operate in the broader world,” he said. “It’s the same thing for Microsoft or anything else. We want U.S. firms to benefit from that.” He continued: “Now financial firms are different because of the risk, but you can contain that through regulation.” This was the purpose of the recent financial reform, he said. In effect, Geithner was arguing that we should be as comfortable linking the fate of our economy to Wall Street as to automakers or Silicon Valley.

In response, Dayen writes:

I don’t even know what to say about this. We’re just a few years removed from the financial oligarchs destroying the global economy through their own greed and negligence. And the man put in charge of regulating them, who had a front-row seat to all this destruction and who has been given expanded powers under Dodd-Frank to see to it that never happens again, thinks that there’s a great “financial deepening” about to take place where the demand for sophisticated financial innovations will jump. Therefore, the financial sector will need to grow and become the most reliable spur of the US economy. That’s his feeling. And regulation can reduce the risk, even though the new regulations barely put a dent into Wall Street’s core business, and are being systematically defunded besides.

Financialization of the economy has led to practically nothing but pain for the average worker and risk for the taxpayer. It has turned the allocation of capital into the placing of bets at a casino, and the stock market into a particularly sophisticated video poker game. This territory was all covered before in the run-up to the Great Depression as well, and we know the precise causes and remedies involved. Geithner prefers not to address the plutocracy he’s really advancing here – where elites provide “financial deepening” services abroad and amass ridiculous profits that they wall off.

This incredibly amoral conman is partnering with our conman chief executive to sell out our country, our lives, and those of our children and grandchildren. There’s lots more of interest in the article, particularly the information about Geithner’s upbringing.

I’ll wrap this up with a few other stories, and then throw the floor open to your links and opinions. Did you hear that Stephen Baldwin is suing Kevin Costner over Costner’s oil-eating invention?

It seems Baldwin sold his shares in Costner’s company right before BP shelled out $50 million for the machines.

Jane Hamsher offers a flow-chart of the principle players in the scandal over US Chamber of Commerce’s attempts to discredit Wikileaks, Glenn Greenwald, Brad Friedman, David House, and others who have supported wikileaks and Bradley Manning. Joseph Cannon has also been covering this story.

Brad Friedman’s post especially is a must read. Get this, the Chamber paid 2 million dollars a month for dirt on Friedman, and got completely inaccurate information. And that inaccurate information came from corporations who are paid billions by our government “to target terrorists.” But Obama wants to cancel heating assistance for poor people to save money.

Mitt Romney is ahead in the latest NH poll, at 40%, for whatever that’s worth. Romney was always going to win NH. They always vote for New Englanders up there. The real test for Romney will be Iowa.

The Patriot Act extension has been passed by the House on the second try. I think the Egyptians will probably get rid of their emergency law before we get rid of ours.

There are “massive” protests in Iran, inspired by the dramatic events in Egypt. There have also been more protests in Yemen and in Bahrain. When will it happen here?

What are you reading and blogging about today?

The Invisible Hand vs. The Big Stick

 “The reason that the invisible hand often seems invisible is that it is often not there.” (Making Globalization Work, 2006)

Nobel Prize winning economist (2001) Joseph E. Stiglitz

After finding out about it on MiradorWealth.com.au, I’m participating in an on line debate at Economist.com concerning regulating the financial system after this crisis.  It is interesting to read the comments because they come from all over the world and they come from folks that participate one way or another in the financial markets.  Right now 63% of the participants (led by American Economist Joseph Stiglitz) want more regulation of financial markets.

Here is his opening argument:

The current crisis is caused, in part, by inadequate regulation. Unless we have an adequate regulatory system—regulations and a regulatory structure that ensures their implementation—we are bound to have another crisis. This is not the first such crisis in the financial system that we have had in recent decades. Indeed, around the world, it is more unusual for a country not to have had a financial crisis than to have had one. They have occurred in societies with “good institutions”—like those in Scandinavia—and in societies without such institutions. They have occurred in developed and in developing countries. The only countries to have been spared so far are those with strong regulatory frameworks.

The side against regulation is taken up by Myron Scholes who is an equally impressive American Finance Professor.  Here is his opening argument:

There is now a rising chorus among regulators, politicians, and academics claiming the freedom to innovate in the financial domain should be curtailed.  This stemmed from the apparent recent failures in mortgage finance and credit default swaps and the apparent need for governments and central banks to “bail out” failing and failed financial institutions around the world directly through capital infusions and indirectly by providing a wide array of liquidity facilities and guarantees. They claim that freedom in global financial markets has proceeded at too rapid a pace without controls—in particular with an incentive system that rewards risk-taking at the expense of government entities—and as a result “throwing sand in the gears” of innovation will reduce “deadweight costs” and “moral hazard” issues.

Here are my thoughts.

Financial markets are not like other markets. To function properly, there needs to be transparency and trust. If transparency and trust are not there, they do not work, and if financial markets don’t work, nothing works in an economy.

Regulations should be put into place that increase transparency and increase trust. This does not mean they should be used to push social agendas like ‘affordable housing’. This means that rules of dealing in a market should be clearly established and a regulator should ensure they are followed. Rules concerning leverage, capitalization, prudent underwriting standards, and standardization of contracts all lead to transparency and trust. Countries with the standards attract capital and grow. Countries without do not attract capital and stall. Adequate regulation would have stopped this financial panic. We still have not unwound the rogue credit default swap market. We have yet to determine the full impact this will have on the current situation and it remains an unquantified risk hanging out there in the ethos like a cancer ready to spread. Unless we ensure these markets cannot be gamed, we will lurch from one financial panic to another.

As the financial crisis winds its way through history the discussion concerning the role of regulation, deregulation, and future policy will be an important one.  I suggest you get involved with that discussion because it is just that, an important one.