Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Re-assessing Geithner

No, don't worry: I'm not now going to lavish praise on the guy...
... but a reading of his brief bio on Wikipedia suggests he's not evil, just incompetent and not well-qualified for his past couple of jobs.

His A.B. - from Dartmouth - is in Government and Asian Studies. He got a Master of Arts in International Economics & East Asian Studies from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. The dual degree - International Economics and East Asian Studies sounds impressive... but what it really means is he got only a partial education in either. (His undergrad degree in Government & Asian Studies suggests the same... but at least the Asian Studies part supplements whatever courses he took for the Master's in East Asian Studies.)
He didn't pursue a Ph.D.
The rest of his education/training has been OJT (on-the-job).

There is a qualitative difference between masters classes and doctoral classes. (Trust me - I was a professional graduate student for 12 years, at three different universities! - a couple of 'em on par with Johns Hopkins.)
I'm wondering: did Geithner decide against a doctorate because he couldn't handle the heavy mathematical lifting associated with a Ph.D. in economics?

After finishing school he was first employed by Kissinger Associates - a firm that "assists its clients in identifying strategic partners and investment opportunities, and advises clients on government relations throughout the world." Okay, Geithner probably picked up some finance knowledge during this tour of duty, but I'm guessing his real contributions were in the field of foreign relations, a guess that is supported by his next job, with the International Affairs division of the U.S. Treasury.

When appointed as president of the NY Fed, Geithner had logged quite a few hours in international monetary policy and international relations... but doesn't seem to have had the opportunity to pick up any substantial knowledge of basic macroeconomics, banking, or finance.

My bet? As NY Fed president, he simply found himself overwhelmed, cowed and intimidated by the bankers and real economists with whom he had to deal. With his Treasury experience he probably knew how to "play the game" - at least administratively and politically... but never had any real grasp of the Fed's business.
And: whatever "expertise" he may have acquired OJT was - and is - wholly insufficient to guide our economic recovery as Treasury Secretary.

Conclusion: Geithner is a prime example of the Peter Principle:
"In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence."
He's not evil or ill-intentioned - he's just incompetent...
I almost feel sorry for the guy.

BUT: Mr. President - Geithner must go!

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