Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, recently wrote an article at Aleteia about the recent Great Recession and Former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s book, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises. Gregg begins by noting that economists and historians are still speculating about the causes of the Great Depression and doesn’t doubt that similar debates will occur about more recent economic decline. He says, “it’s not surprising that some of those who were closets to the policy epicenter of the maelstrom are anxious to get their version of events on the record” and it’s hardly surprising that now Geithner is talking about it. Gregg continues:
Stress Test is written in the regrettably chatty, forced-informality manner of too many memoirs by politicians and public officials in our age of excessive casualness, selfies, and perpetual adolescence. For all that, however, Geithner does make a sincere effort to explain himself and his actions — even if his account won’t convince everyone.
Judging from this text (but also from other books written on the financial crisis by other players), Geithner comes across as an intelligent, decent man who found himself dealing with incredibly difficult problems in an environment full of Zeus-sized egos inside the self-referential bubble of Washington, D.C. “I wasn’t,” he writes, “a banker, an economist, a politician, or even a Democrat” (1). Indeed Geithner stresses over and over again his independence. The Left, according to Geithner, saw him as “Wall Street’s wingmen” while Wall Street thought he and others were “Che Guevaras in suits” (20).
Nevertheless it’s clear from the tone and substance of many of Geithner’s remarks that he has far less time for those who question what might be called the center-left outlook that has dominated America’s mandarin class from the New Deal onwards (and even before). Though Geithner confesses that policy-makers should be much more humble when it comes to what they can know about what ails an economy of trillions of dollars (18), Geithner finds difficult not to dismiss anyone who questions the scale of government’s expansion into the economy since 2008 as ignorant, unreasonable, or worse.
Given that he self-identifies as socially liberal, economically moderate (by which he means, as far as one can tell, a mild Keynesian), and “pragmatic above all” (241), that suggests Geithner has a less-than-positive view of about half of America. But that, I suspect, is hardly uncommon among America’s Washington-based technocracy.
In Becoming Europe, Samuel Gregg examines economic culture - the values and institutions that inform our economic priorities - to explain how European economic life has drifted in the direction of what Alexis de Tocqueville called "soft despotism", and the ways in which similar trends are manifesting themselves in the United States.