Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Escape Artists by Noam Scheiber (2012)

I read The Escape Artists this winter. It is a decent book: Woodwardian in terms of providing details about conversations and relationships. It's a reminder that individuals do matter in shaping policy.  Also, I like that Noam Scheiber does not completely hide the ball in terms of critiquing decisions.


Scheiber traces President Obama's economic policy using the framework of character sketches of his chief advisors: Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, and Christina Romer.

Scheiber's theme is that the President has done too little to rein in the big banks. The book provided some details to support my own disappointment with Obama's economic policies.

Geithner comes across as the primary villain, with Orszag a close second.  Here are some excerpts:
Geithner prided  himself on his maturity. It was no doubt repugnant to protect the bankers ... but just as there was no military victory without collateral damage, there was no financial peace without bailed-out financiers. It was petulant to pretend otherwise.
[Based on his involvement in bailing out Mexico and certain Asian economies during the 1990's, Geithner had decided that] if the point was to save the financial system, you shouldn't just err on the side of doing more rather than less. You should do everything you could possibly do, then go back and think about what else might be done and do that too.
571. According to Scheiber, Obama and Geithner hit it off from their very first encounter.  What was it about Geithner that gave Obama so much confidence in his opinions?  In interviews, Geithner seems relatively timid (compared -- for example -- to Larry Summers or Leon Panetta). Was his intellectual approach particularly appealing to Obama, or was it something else about the way that he presented his ideas?

572. Does Obama have any second thoughts about his policies towards the large banks?  Do the recent J.P. Morgan trading-loss revelations give him another chance to "get it right", and is he considering any new policies for regulating and/or breaking up the banks?

573. Obama travels to Israel this week (his first trip there).  At this point in his Presidency, is he more engaged/interested in foreign or domestic issues?

574.  Does Obama have a "favorite" advisor with whom he feels most comfortable sharing outside-the-box thoughts and ideas?  I assume that this is the role Valerie Jarrett plays (or perhaps David Axelrod). What is the basis for his closeness to Jarrett -- emotional or intellectual?


Here's a portion of my entry from February 3, 2009 about Geithner, after he was first appointed and questions arose about his income tax returns:
This is from Richard Cohen's piece "100 Billion and No Change Back" in today's Washington Post:\

 "Taken individually, the tax problems of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the health and human services secretary-designate, Tom Daschle, don't amount to much. Together, though, they amount to a message: If you are beloved by this administration, you don't necessarily have to play by the rules. Both Geithner and Daschle are good men, but their appointments send the message that Washington's new broom sweeps a bit like the old one."

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