Friday, April 03, 2009

What's In A Headline?

"Documents show Geithner's failures to foresee financial crisis at New York Fed" is the way "Raw Story" characterizes a report today in the WaPo and Pro Publico. Their summary:
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner failed to see many of the major structural problems with the US financial system while at the New York Federal Reserve because of his apparent closeness with industry executives, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post and ProPublica.
Helpful excerpts follow, including this gem:
As Geithner and the New York Fed worked to solve narrow mechanical issues in the derivatives market, they missed clear signs of a catastrophe in the making. When the housing market collapsed, derivatives stoked the fires that ignited inside some of the biggest banking companies. The firms' failure to assess an array of risks they were taking has emerged as a key element in the multitrillion-dollar meltdown of the global financial system.

The documents show that his reliance on industry assureances that the system was "safe and sound" played a key role in his failure to assess the mounting crisis.
Reading 'between the lines,' so to speak, we may see that what really happened was that Geithner was supposed to be on the bridge, but instead was organizing a procedure for counting the silver for the buffet on the Titanic, while the ship sailed too fast into the mist.

And that's the charitable interpretation.

A less charitable view would be that Geithner was so committed to the exotics that he was willfully ignorant posed, was possibly even actively abetting the increased trade in these ultra-risky instruments. This, indeed, seems the more likely interpretation to me. I mean, a lot of people were making a LOT of money for a while there, and mostly they were friends of Geithner's, and some of it probably rubbed off. Surface tension, and all that...

Because I never impute to the civilized citizens of our consumer culture any capacity for anything else than self-enrichment when enough money's on the table and nobody seems to be counting the stash.

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