WONK ROOM: The Coming Of The Crisis: Henry Paulson vs. Tim Geithner
WASHINGTON, DC—In June of 2006, the Senate confirmed Henry Paulson to be the 74th treasury secretary with a simple voice vote. At the time, Paulson was called “a very strong choice” and “the right man at the right time” by lawmakers.
The man that President Barack Obama has tapped to be Paulson’s successor, though—president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Timothy Geithner—“faces a grilling in Congress” after reports surfaced that he failed to pay self-employment taxes on his 2001-2004 returns while working at the International Monetary Fund.
But while Paulson spent his tenure at Treasury consistently maintaining that the U.S. financial system was “safe and sound,” Geithner has been behind the scenes, warning that financial innovation and a weak housing market were threatening to topple the U.S. economy. The Wonk Room has assembled a timeline pitting Geithner’s cautionary statements against Paulson’s public insistence that everything was fine.
Geithner: The present fiscal trajectory is uncomfortable.
The present fiscal trajectory entails an uncomfortable scale of borrowing and little insurance against possible adverse outcomes in an uncertain world. [Speech at RMA/Risk Business KRI’s Global Operational Risk Forum, 1/13/05]
Geithner: Financial innovation is creating systemic risk.
There are aspects of the latest changes in financial innovation that could increase systemic risk…The complexity of many new instruments and the relative immaturity of the various approaches used to measure the risks in those exposures magnify the uncertainty involved. [Speech at the Global Association of Risk Professionals 7th Annual Risk Management Convention & Exhibition in New York City, 2/28/06]
Paulson: The world economy is stronger than I have ever seen it.
We are fortunate to face our long-term challenges from a position of strength. As a participant in financial markets for more than thirty years, I say with confidence that over the last couple of years, the world economy has been stronger than I have ever seen it. [Speech at CBI National Conference, 11/28/06]
Geithner: This market is not something we fully understand.
[T]his constellation of market conditions and asset prices is really quite unusual, at least in comparison to what we’ve seen over the past several decades…it’s not something we fully understand and we can’t be that confident today in judgments about how durable it’ll prove to be. [Speech at Council on Foreign Relations, 1/11/07]
Paulson: Bad lending practices should not provoke Treasury intervention.
Paulson told the BBC that while subprime loans may be a problem, the “overall economic outlook was positive.” He stressed that “bad lending practices” should not provoke intervention by the U.S. Treasury. [BBC, 9/13/07]
Paulson: Financial innovation got ahead of regulation, but we don’t want it the other way around.
The New York Times’ Paul Krugman notes “Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, admitted to Fortune magazine that financial innovation got ahead of regulation—but added, ‘I don’t think we want it the other way around.’”[The New York Times, 12/3/07]
Paulson: The economy is fundamentally healthy.
The U.S. banking system is well-capitalized, and we have a strong deposit insurance system that provides good coverage for the savings of hard-working Americans. The U.S. economy is ”fundamentally healthy” as it works through the mortgage-market turmoil. [Forbes, 12/7/07]
Geithner: The critical risk is Wall Street exacerbating weakness in the housing sector.
The critical risk to the economic outlook remains the potential for the strains in financial markets to have an outsized adverse effect on real economic activity, particularly by exacerbating the already significant weakness in the housing sector. [Speech at Council on Foreign Relations, 3/06/08]
Paulson: The long-term fundamentals are healthy.
Our economy, like any other, has its ups and downs. It’s structurally sound. The long-term fundamentals are healthy. The risks are to the downside right now, but the long-term fundamentals are healthy. [San Francisco Chronicle, 3/8/08]
Paulson: Our banks and investment banks are strong.
I’ve got great confidence in our financial market…Our institutions, our banks and investment banks, are strong. [Fox News Sunday, 3/08]
Geithner: This is not a problem the market can solve on its own.
The most important risk is systemic: if this dynamic continues unabated, the result would be a greater probability of widespread insolvencies, severe and protracted damage to the financial system and, ultimately, to the economy as a whole. This is not theoretical risk, and it is not something that the market can solve on its own. It carries the risk of significant damage to economic activity. [Congressional Testimony, Senate Banking Committee, 4/3/08]
Geithner: Our actions need to be proportionate to the challenges.
[L]iquidity conditions in markets are still substantially impaired and the process of de-leveraging remains underway…[P]olicymakers and financial market participants need to continue to act forcefully. And their actions need to be proportionate to the challenges. [Congressional Testimony, Senate Banking Committee, 4/3/08]
Paulson: The United States is on the right path to resolving market disruption.
Overall, I believe that the United States is on the right path to resolving market disruptions and building a stronger financial system. Our long-term prospects remain strong. [Speech at U.S.-UAE Business Council, 6/2/08]
Geithner: Institutions with little capital should stop underwriting mortgages.
We need to make it much more difficult for institutions with little capital and little supervision to underwrite mortgages. [Speech at Economic Club of New York, 6/9/08]
Geithner: We have to adapt the regulatory system to this crisis.
It is important that we move quickly to adapt the regulatory system to address the vulnerabilities exposed by this financial crisis. [Bloomberg, 6/9/08]
Paulson: The banking system is safe and sound.
It’s a safe banking system, a sound banking system. Our regulators are on top of it. This is a very manageable situation….We have a safe and sound banking system in the United States of America. [CBS’s Face the Nation, 7/20/08]
Paulson: The financial system is sound and resilient.
The American people can remain confident in the soundness and the resilience of our financial system. [CNN Money, 9/15/08]