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on May 14, 2014
I worked with Geithner at the NY Fed. I was a bit player present at many of the meetings and calls described.

I imagine most ratings will reflect their predisposition to the actions taken by the Fed and Treasury during the crisis. I did not come here to debate those.

I merely came to state that the book is an honest account of how Tim and the rest of us thought during the events described. This is what he believed, and what we believed. I cannot comment on the accounts from Treasury, though they correspond with what I annecdotally heard at the time.
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on February 14, 2015
One of the best books about the near depression. A good insight to Bush and Obama. Left me with a lot more respect of what Obama did and how he does work behind the scenes. Also, I was very impressed with the intellect and effectiveness of Obama's staff.....another thing I did not know about. The political posturing was almost non existent when it came to solving the problem!!!! Thanks to Geithner and his staff and all the others involved. What a book!
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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.
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on December 27, 2015
Very interesting and revealing perspective on the response to financial meltdown. Geithner makes it very clear that moral hazard is only relevant for mortgage borrowers in over their heads without a job, and not for financial Barron's who only risked other people's money in large enough quantities for the economy to feel their individual loss. No risk was acceptable of bailing out mortgage holders who may have stretched what they could handle, but all risks were essential to prevent negative consequences to Wall Street. And that, despite the fact that none of the perpetrators were even in the business of providing capital for entrepreneurial growth. They just bet on the probability of failure or success through credit default swaps, derivatives, and other invented instruments of speculation. So millions of innocent mortgage holders were ruined to avoid rewarding a few speculators, while Wall Street speculators were all saved to avoid claimed broader consequences to the economy that was already in the tank. Clearly, Geithner's heart is with Wall Street, and Main Street is only unfortunate collateral damage. No wonder he was in such a hurry to get his book out.
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on May 19, 2014
The Debt-Deflation Theory of Great Depressions (What would have happened - and did - Depression 1.0 )

And, Geithner still seems shell shocked. He does a much better job framing the crisis in the book than in real time. But he still doesn't do an a sufficient job of conveying the crushing impact of market panic. It was the kind of fear that you can smell.

His major error is not emphasizing just how small the differences are between market based traditional bankruptcy, bailouts, and nationalization. With nationalization, the owners/shareholders are wiped out as well as some of the bondholders. In traditional bankruptcy, the owners/shareholders are wiped out and bondholders are usually wiped out or take a serious haircut. With partial nationalization (bailouts) including TARP and other guarantee programs, shareholders were either totally wiped out or lost 90% of their investment in the weakest banks. The shareholders of the stronger banks suffered dilution of their ownership through TARP fees, mandatory warrants, and Treasury imposed capital raises.

1/4 to 1/3 of the largest financial firms were effectively nationalized. The owners/shareholders were wiped out. The ONLY difference was the treatment of bond holders, who did better under the TARP and other backstop programs. And these bondholders weren't hedge funds or investment bankers. Hedge funds wouldn't touch low yield bank debt. It was owned by Pension Funds, bond mutual funds, ordinary people and institutions that look more like the president of your local branch bank then anyone on Wall Street.

Partial nationalization. If you don't believe it, ask Ralph Nader. "Nader has been arguing the government needs to recognize the rights of shareholders, instead of sending all the profits of the GSEs to the Treasury, aside from minimal capital buffers." Yes Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac were bailed out. But the owners/shareholders weren't bailed out. Nader complains that all the profits were sent to the taxpayer. Per Nader, "... they sensed that this would help keep the deficit down -- that this huge Niagara of profits would --and they were right on that." That 'huge Niagara went to the TAXPAYERS.

Geithner was beaten like a red haired stepchild. And he plays defense in this book.

The story he didn't spell out in 18 point type is:

1. TARP had a positive return of $billions. Which went to the taxpayer.
2. A huge portion of the financial system WAS effectively nationalized Bear Sterns, WaMu, Wachovia, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, 80% of Citi, 92% of AIG and small chunks of the institutions that were required to increase capital by Geithner's stress test.
3. When the Fed and Treasury acted, markets that had been worshiped since the breakup of the USSR -- failed. For a market system to work, markets need to be relatively efficient, liquid and deep. These characteristics, which were plausible prior to panic, were proven to be illusory.
4. The greed of the prior decade was reversed and replaced by the ice cold sweat of fear. Financial markets were frozen and our economy went into free fall.
5. Geithner won. The Fed, Treasury, and both Bush and Obama saved the country from Great Depression 2.0.

The misnamed bailout didn't bail out the owners of weak financial firms. It bailed out the rest of the country, including iconic American brands like Harley Davidson. Harley (ticker symbol HOG) is the only brand in history whose most loyal customers get tattooed with the brand name permanently and prominently. In early 2009, it was simply unable to finance sales to customers with good credit. It was choking on loans that couldn't be sold into frozen markets. Geithner's TALF broke that logjam and prevented businesses from disintegrating. Anyone that doesn't believe this should simply look it up.

Yes Geithner said it.

But he should have said it more like this. With conviction.
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on June 1, 2015
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VINE VOICEon August 20, 2014
The Great Recession and financial panic of 2007-2009 has a lot of myths and stories surrounding it concerning what the government did or didn't do, what it should've done and shouldn't have done, and the motives of those working behind the scenes. Former Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner is one of those lighting rod figures from the crisis who, because of his relative anonymity prior to the crisis, is often misunderstood or caricatured. In this book, Sec. Geithner not only dispels the myths about his own background, but also provides a unique insight and perspective on the panic from one of the only two people in high government who was there from beginning to end (Fed chairman Ben Bernanke being the other one). But his story, and his experiences with financial panics, doesn't start in 2007, but rather starts with his upbringing in a family that was involved in international development and finances from when he was very young, always moving from one country to another and spending very little time in America. From there, it moves on to his time as a civil servant in the Treasury department's international wing, dealing with the crises brought on the by the Asian financial panics of the 1990s and eventual rising to be Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in charge of the international branch. From those times Mr. Geithner picks up a lot of invaluable experience in financial panics, what makes them better, and what makes them worse. From there he makes the surprising leap to head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the most powerful of the regional Federal Reserve Boards in the country. And that is where the main story begins as Mr. Geithner describes the events that led to the panic, the actions he took as FRBNY chair and then Treasury Secretary, why they took them, and why they were necessary even if they were both unpopular and counterintuitive. The book reaches its climax with the stress tests backed by promises of capital injections for those banks the tests deemed were in need of them. Once the results of the test are released in the spring of 2009 a certain measure of calm enters the markets and the last chapters feel like a denouement as he deals with the Eurozone crisis and the toxic politics of Washington following the ascendancy of the Tea Party in 2010. What is surprising is how in the first half of the book Mr. Geithner seems to undersell himself, not out of a sense of humility, but because he genuinely seemed to believe that there were other people better or more knowledgeable than him. From my perspective, it seems like a no-brainer that Pres. Obama tapped him to be Treasury Secretary, even if he was a terrible salesman (a flaw that he readily, even jokingly, admits to being). What is also great about this book is how much value it has beyond being another account of the financial crisis. He does a great job of explaining why the unpopular decisions the Fed, the FDIC, and the Treasury took were necessary to save the economy, even if he falls into the trap of using too much of the jargon of Wall St. to explain it. I believe this book has value not only as an account of this financial crisis, but as a guide to how to handle future financial, indeed any, crisis in the future. As Mr. Geithner is fond of saying, a plan beats no plan. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the true story behind the financial crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
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on August 7, 2014
A detailed, factual, blow-by-blow description of the events we all read about or watched on TV. But Geithner carefully and convincingly explains what was happening behind the scenes, and what these events really meant.

Further, he provides numbers that prove we tax-payers made many billions from the money that the government invested to save us from a Great Depression. And he shows clearly how the 2008 collapse of values threatened a worse economy than the 30s, eg worse unemployment than 25%. While the Obama administration and the Fed under Bernanke kept unemployment under 10%.

A very fine and well-reasoned book. We should be grateful for his efforts.
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on February 4, 2016
This is a great book. The writing is clear and the story keeps moving. The author's humility and wit is evident throughout the book. Agree with him or not about many things, this book reflects some deep thinking, mostly done on the fly under extremely stressful situations, from which readers and future policy makers can profit. One of the best, if not the best, memoirs from those who were front and center in making the key decision that kept the 2008 financial crisis from spinning out of control
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on July 1, 2014
I found the narrative to be interesting, even compelling, given the subject matter. Having lived through the Great Recession myself, it was enjoyable to see what the principal players were doing behind our backs. Still, I was not completely convinced that the "stress test," while it may have solved a basic misconception within the banking and financial sectors did not address the other fundamental crises within the U.S. economy. In fact, the author, much to his credit, admits that even the most stringent and heroic measures undertaken by Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, Mr. Geithner and many other financial experts were not able to prevent the massive layoffs and financial catastrophes that affected many millions of people during that period...and perhaps that is the bigger story of which Mr. Geithner's excellent account is but a part.
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