Monday, July 7, 2014

Tim Geithner on Mitch McConnell and On Tax Cuts

Over the 4th of July, I finally finished former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's book, Stress Test.

I think Matt Stoller's review of the book was insightful when he wrote:
 Despite its length, there are also serious omissions that suggest an intention to mislead, as well as misrepresentations of his critics’ arguments. As I went further into Geithner’s narrative, even back into his college days, I got the sense that I was seeing only a brilliantly scrubbed surface, that there were nooks and crannies hidden away. It struck me that I was reading the memoirs of an incredibly savvy and well-bred grifter, the kind that the American WASP establishment of financiers, foundation officials, and spies produces in such rich abundance....

But the book is more than just a set of arguments; it’s also an autobiography of a man. And while I was reading it, I kept getting the feeling I wasn’t learning the full story. I noticed oddities, a kind of set of shimmering ephemera which suggest that there was something the author was holding just out of view of the reader.

Geithner talks about his childhood growing up abroad, with high-powered family members who had advised presidents, and a father who was a senior executive at the Ford Foundation in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 70s. At that time, the Ford Foundation was a pivotal instrument of US foreign policy, an important vehicle for anti-Communist efforts and heavily integrated into the financial and foreign policy establishment (the head of the foundation even set up an internal committee to organize incoming requests from the CIA). Yet Geithner portrays himself as a largely apolitical and directionless kid, a sort of ordinary person in unusual circumstances, with loving parents. It was an odd way to describe growing up cocooned in the foreign-policy elite. Geithner is far too smart to not have been able to observe what was going on around him, yet he is silent in the book on how he saw power up close at a young age.

At Dartmouth, Geithner portrayed himself an "unexceptional and uninspired student," finding economics dreary and political consulting boring. He didn’t even remember voting in 1980. Yet over Christmas break during his freshman year of college, he notes, he did a short stint as a war photojournalist along the Thai-Cambodian border for the Associated Press. It’s a short piece in the book, meant to describe one Christmas break. But I had to reread it several times, to make sure it was actually in there. I kept thinking, What the hell? Who does that? It’s not that it’s not true; it sounds like it is. But there’s more to this story than “Oh, I was a freshman in college and didn’t like studying, and then I did a stint as a war photographer over Christmas break and decided I didn’t want to be a photographer.” There’s something he’s not saying. He was not just a boring apolitical kid who didn’t notice very much about the world. Such people do not become photojournalists for a week over Christmas in war zones when they are 18.

And then there’s the mystery of how he managed to climb up the career ladder so quickly. He never really explains how this happens. He wasn’t a good student. He notes, as a grad student, that he mostly played pool. “During my orals, when one professor asked which economics journals I read, I replied that I had never read any. Seriously? Yes, seriously. But not long after we returned from our honeymoon in France, Henry Kissinger’s international consulting firm hired me as an Asia analyst; my dean at SAIS had recommended me to Brent Scowcroft, one of Kissinger’s partners.”

I’m sorry, but what? How does this just happen? And it goes on. One day, when Geithner was a junior Treasury civil servant, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen just called him out of the blue to ask his advice on a matter about which he knew nothing. Why? He doesn’t say—he’s just puzzled. Later on, he advances in Treasury without any real credentials in a department where a law degree or economics PhD is essential. Even Alan Greenspan eventually expressed surprise; he had just assumed Geithner had a doctorate. Power just always seemed to flow to Geithner, and he never says why. He knows why, of course—he’s an exceptional political climber. He just doesn’t say who was grooming him, why he ended up where he ended up, and what he paid to get there.

That sums the book up pretty well, but there were a couple of points Githner did make that will resonate with pure libertarians.

On Rand Paul's man, Mitch McConnell, Geithner writes:
McConnell is a calculating politician, and I find many of his beliefs and his methods offensive..

With regard to "tax cuts" that Republicans had trumpeted, Geithner writes:
Liberal accused us of getting rolled and selling out, complaining that we had cut more than Boehner's initial request. But in reality the cuts were very gentle, and many of them looked like accounting fictions; my team called them "air sandwiches."

Geithner also informs on lefty know-it-all Barbara Streisand:
I don't think the public every really got to know me. Barbara Streisand said when we met at that state dinner that a I must be all right because I was a Brooklyn Jew, which was kind of her, except that I am not Jewish and I've never lived in Brooklyn.


  1. The surprise would be if Geithner told the truth about anything at all. Truth tellers - even occasional truth tellers - don't wind up where this little savage wound up. He is a parasite and manipulation is the chief talent of parasites. Lying is the main ingredient in manipulation. Anything he writes should be sold as fiction.

  2. It is a silly canard to speak of a WASP power structure in the present tense. It is now run mostly by secular Jews (right-wing Neocons and left-wing Tikkun Olam types), a few genuine WASPs (Geithner's mother is a Mayflower descendant, and a hodge-podge of Ivy League strivers and social climbers.

  3. And someone once reported that Geithner's dad and Obama's mom worked together in Indonesia:

    1. Yeah, anyone denying this guy is a spook is ignorant of the history of The Company.