By Simon Johnson, Baseline Scenario, 16 July 2010
In modern American life, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner stands out as amazingly resilient and remarkably lucky – despite presiding over or being deeply involved in a series of political debacles, he has gone from strength to strength. After at least eight improbably bounce backs, he might seem unassailable. But his latest mistake – blocking Elizabeth Warren from the heading the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – may well prove politically fatal.
Geithner was a junior but key member of the US Treasury team that badly mishandled the early days of the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and received widespread criticism (Life #1). He was promoted as a result and thereafter enjoyed a meteoric rise.
As President of the New York Federal Reserve from 2003, and de facto head of the government’s financial intelligence service, he completely failed to spot the problems developing in and around the country’s financial markets; nothing about this embarrassing track record has since stood in his way (Life #2). He subsequently became Hank Paulson’s Wall Street point person for one of the most comprehensively bungled bailouts of all time – the Troubled Asset Relief Program, TARP, which in fall 2008 first appalled Congress with its intentions and then wasn’t used at all as advertised (Life #3).