The New York Times today has a fantastic profile of Tim Geithner and his thinking. It underlines, through a complex portrait, how urgent it is to replace Geithner with someone whose ideology was not fundamentally created by the institutions he is supposed to be regulating.
But two additional things struck me about the profile. The first is that he comes across as profoundly naïve. At one point he insists that he "would never put [him]self in a position where [his] actions were influenced by a personal relationship," but he has lived most of his life in Washington and New York, in communities where everyone around him has been attempting to use personal relationships to influence his actions. He doesn’t show a basic awareness of his position. For such a sentence to be plausible, he would have to demonstrate a canny, rigorous array of defenses against influence. Instead, he sounds like a boy at the beach with some friends.
The second thing is something that has nagged at me about him since his arrival at Treasury, and I’m only beginning to put my finger on it. It’s something about the way he talks. These sentences (from today’s article) run on like an endless string of pop off beads:
"we are going to be doing things which ultimately — in order to get the credit flowing again — are going to benefit the institutions that are at the core of the problem."
"requires we balance how to achieve the most benefits in terms of improving confidence and the flow of credit at the least risk to taxpayers."
At first it sounds good and stable: each idea is connected to the next, his tone is fluid, he communicates mastery. But after a while, the sentences continue too long, and resting place seems arbitrary. There is mastery, perhaps, but of what? After listening to him for a while, you get the impression he isn’t actually talking about objects in the world.
His thoughts resemble securitized assets–they refer to something, but the risk is not apparent on the surface of the nouns and verbs assembled, and the exact reference seems unclear. From last week’s testimony:
"At the conclusion of this process that the Fed is undertaking to assess the potential capital needs of banks going forward, where there is a need for additional capital, total capital and common capital, those banks will have a suite of options of how they meet that need. They will work out with their…supervisors what’s the best mix of those options."