Top critical review
Self-indulgent but interesting
on March 14, 2016
Timothy F. Geithner was one of the main protagonists of the financial crisis of 2008. First he had to deal with the onset of the crisis (as New York Fed chairman) and then with its aftermath (as Treasury secretary). In this informative book, he attempts a defense of his actions (and inactions) in this crucial time of US economic history. In the trial of public opinion and the press, Geithner has been blamed of both (i) missing the warning signs of the upcoming crisis and doing little to prevent it, (ii) and bailing out the main culprits in Wall Street while forgetting about most of the victims in Main Street.
He mounts a forceful defense of the second acussation. Geithner presents himself as a reasonable utilitarist who made difficult and controversial decisions with only one goal in mind: safeguarding the wellbeing of millions of people. In his account, he had to battle moral hazard fundamentalists arguing for doing nothing in the midst of a terrible crisis, eloquent demagogues asking for revenge at any cost, irresponsible politicians playing dangerous games of brinkmanship, superficial journalists telling and retelling the same morality tale, and opportunistic financiers taking advantage of sensible public polcies. I battled, he suggests, all these people at once and prevailed against long odds, saving the world of a catastrophe. Self-congratulatory, indeed. But truthful to some degree.
His defense of the role he played in the onset the crisis is less forceful. He presents himself as a cautious figure in the midst of a mania--a big party that nobody (perhaps not even him) wanted to end. In his view, he was too timid a spoiler, eager to stop the party but uncapable of speaking loudly enough.
Geithner describes himself as a poor communicator of an almost uncommunicable task, a tragic figure. But paradoxically this is a clear and well-argued book. Self-indulgent as most memoirs. Too earnest perhaps: self-irony is almost completely absent. All in all Geithner seems overly concerned about his place in history. For better and for worse.