Flights from London to DC via Frankfurt (don’t ask why, just learn from my mistake and never do it) put the recent Atlantic and New Yorker profiles of Tim Geithner in a good light. Longer than they needed to be, you say? I was wishing they were longer.
Josh Green was better on Geithner’s character, I thought, and John Cassidy more at home with the economics. Both pieces are well worth reading, regardless of your itinerary. But I have to say that neither really dispelled for me the big mystery about Geithner, which is the nature of his professional and intellectual relationship with Larry Summers.
When the appointments were first made, I foresaw trouble. Like many others, I assumed that Obama would have wished to make Summers Treasury Secretary, but recoiled at the difficulty of getting him confirmed. So Summers became chief economic adviser while his former subordinate Geithner (whose confirmation turned out to be no stroll in the park either) got Treasury.
A hazardous arrangement, I thought, though possibly workable, if Geithner was sufficiently self-effacing to accept the de facto number two position. Summers, I reasoned, never would. But if Geithner decided he was going to be in charge, there would be a fight for influence, the economic message would be muddled, and the loser would have to go. Adding to the danger was the milling profusion of other top economic talent-Volcker, Orszag, Goolsbee, to name just three-in or around the White House.