The latest revelations about the New York Fed's actions in the AIG bailout make one thing clear: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner must go.
Geithner must go not just because of the emails showing that his New York Fed ordered AIG to keep details of the bailout secret, but because of many other decisions and policies he has championed in the past two years.
These decisions and policies have consistently put the interests of Wall Street ahead of the interests of the taxpayer, and they have undermined the public's confidence in the government at a time when the country needs it the most.
Tim Geithner's defense of his actions continues to be, in effect, "We had to do it or the world would have ended." This isn't good enough. It is also, at the very least, debatable.
It is true that Tim Geithner made many of his decisions in the midst of a crisis, and I do not doubt that his intentions were good and that he was doing the best he could. But this does not rinse his hands of responsibility for his decisions or their ongoing ramifications.
- Geithner was directly responsible for the most appalling corporate bailout in U.S. history, in which tens of billions of taxpayer dollars were secretly funneled to some of the richest corporations in the world. The terms of this bailout, and the associated cloak of secrecy under which it was conducted (the details of which continue to leak out) have hurt the public's confidence in the government.
- Geithner's ongoing decision to save banks at any cost was predicated on the theory that this would keep the banks lending. This policy has failed: The banks have not continued to lend. What the banks HAVE done is coin billions of dollars of profits risk-free at taxpayer expense, fueling even more public outrage.
- Geithner's policy of "too big to fail" has created a banking system whose bets are guaranteed by the US taxpayer, and it has distorted lending and market forces across the entire economy. This policy, which has now been all but written into the Constitution, is grossly unfair. Big banks can do whatever they want with no concern about the consequences; small banks have to hunker down or they'll get taken over and shut down.
- Geithner's role in the AIG bailout, which the current administration bears no responsibility for, continues to destroy confidence in his current boss, President Barack Obama. If AIG stays in the headlines, and Geithner does not accept responsibility for what happened. Obama's agenda and influence will continue to suffer.
- Geithner's consistent decision to put Wall Street first has helped fuel a populist rage that will make it very difficult for the government to do anything more to help the financial system. If the recovery continues, such help might never become necessary. If it falters, however, Geithner's policies will have severely curtailed the government's ability to do anything about it.
Those who know him say that Tim Geithner is a very good guy. He made the decisions above in the midst of a panic, and I have no doubt that he was trying to do the right thing.
But contrary to the revisionist history now being promulgated, these actions were not the only way out. They were grossly unfair to taxpayers, and they have undermined public confidence in the government -- and our current President -- at a time when the country needs it most.
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