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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Geithner's Great Claim to Fame

Having read Jimmy Cayne's awful tirade against Geithner, in Cohan's "House of Cards," I'm actually starting to appreciate Tim Geithner. First off, my dislike was spawned when listening to the Bear Stearns hearing before Chris Dodd and the Senate Banking Committee. I felt that Geithner was avoiding the questions, and perhaps, was even hiding details of the deal. Having learned a bit more about him now, it occurs to me that the man is a bureaucrat. My one-and-only made that point to me first, I think after she read a piece in New York Magazine. Bureaucrats can be many things, often lazy, slow, imprecise, lacking in ambition, even susceptible to bribes. However, a bureaucrat's job is based on maintaining stability, based on adhering, creating, and refining the rules. And at a salary of a cool half a mill, it's not like Geithner would have been taking cash bribes.

Anyway, here's the point: Obama was right. We needed a bureaucrat, and he gave us one. The markets have effectively stabilized. There is worse news coming, maybe, but the fact of the matter is the Dow is for the first time in years pretty fairly valued. So, I still disagree with the idea of the Obama economy as dialing back time to go on as things were in 2005--I'm a Krugmanite on that score.

One last point about our man Geithner. I think it's dreadfully apparent that the man has no bedside manner. He spoke to Congress like he was hedging--not, I suspect, because he was intentionally misleading, but because he is not a very good public speaker. And not like George Bush--Geithner is by all reports extremely intelligent. I think he must be the quiet nerdy guy who stutters when he has to speak in public. He's no CEO, hired to praise and maneuver the company, however we'll see where he ends up after Treasury. Maybe, in that big head of his, he's trying to explain how derivatives work to Chris Dodd, and he can't spinoff all the equations, and the tiers, and the models into a cohesive narrative soundbite. He's not a financial reporter, or a CEO, or even a CFO. He's a beaurocrat. One thing that ticked me off, was his sneering attitude to Chris Dodd at the hearing. And now it makes sense. Bureaucrats are the guys who are always there: politicians come and go, but the body remains the same. Politicians spout and get incandescent with rage for the camera, but bureaucrats persist. And that's why Jimmy Cayne hates the man so much, calls him a clerk. That may be Geithner's greatest claim to fame. Jimmy Cayne, the pot smoking, bridgeplaying, scrapmetal salesman with no education, who brought down the 85 year old investment firm--that survived the Great Depression, hates Tim Geithner. I can't think of a higher accolade.

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