: New: Book Report: Stress Test

It's a memoir by Tim Geithner, Treasury Secretary under Obama associated with government bailouts following the mortgage crisis.  I wasn't a fan of the bailouts. I read this book figuring I'd learn something. I'd learned some things by reading about Madeline Albright. I'd been mad at her about incidents in which the USA chucked one missile at a country: just enough to rile them up. I was tired of news stories about angry foreigners. Except thanks to reading her book, I found out that sometimes chucking one missile at a country worked great at calming them down; but those incidents didn't tend to make the news. So I learned that her bad strategy was actually pretty good, when it worked.

Geithner's book didn't win me over to his way of thinking, but at least now I understand him better. I disagree with him now for better reasons! I assumed he wanted to bail out Wall Street fat cats because he was a Wall Street fat cat in a typical “revolving door”… But I was wrong. He hadn't worked on Wall Street. He'd worked at the IMF, trying to save countries whose economies were collapsing. He'd watched close up as the IMF failed to save Indonesia from a crash. Rescuing Indonesia meant pumping money into companies, including an obviously nepotism-based company run by the leader's son. But when you saw how many people suffered when the economy tanked, it changed your thinking. Yes, trying to rescue the economy meant helping some people who didn't deserve it; but letting the economy crash harmed many many many people who didn't deserve that. So... Geithner is still quicker to bail out firms than I would like. But he's not that way out of fat-cattitude; but rather because he wants to avoid suffering. So... I shouldn't be so mad at him. Maybe I don't want him in charge of my economy, but I shouldn't be mad at him.

I say “in charge of my economy,” but of course he wasn't in charge of the economy. That's another thing I learned from this book. Well, I didn't think he ruled over the whole USA economy. But I did think he had more control than he did. When the Secretary of the Treasury or the head of the Fed makes a speech, that tends to make the news. But from this book, I learned about other regulatory agencies running around. Some outfit called the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) was in charge of Thrifts. Bank-like firms that didn't want to be regulated by the fed could tweak their business and be regulated by the relatively loosey-goosey OTS. No matter how much the Fed folks and/or treasury might gnash their teeth at such firms, they couldn't do much to rein them in.

I was mad because the feds bailed so many companies out instead of letting them fail. But thanks to this book, I learned about more that the government did let fail. E.g., Countrywide, a company that had become a thrift, never got a bailout. Countrywide took stupid risks with mortgages and those risks put it out of business. I didn't know that it happened: they weren't too big to fail, they failed, and thus they didn't make headlines.

Another reason to bail out companies that don't deserve it where your help maybe isn't even necessary: if you wait for the problems to get bad enough such that your help is definitely necessary, fixing things will probably be much more expensive. Things collapse quickly. You don't have a lot of time to make these decisions. This book is full of stories about staying up late, working weekends, calling up various moguls, trying to stave off disaster. Probably half of these efforts were useless, but at the time maybe nobody could know which half.

Anyhow, I'm glad I read it. Along with USA stories, there were also interesting bits about the IMF and Greece and the Euro. 

Tags: book business

blog comments powered by Disqus