And yes, he could test his attempts at public rehabilitation and just stop any old person on the street and hit them up for the contents of their wallet. But then he'd need to come with a new topic for the ole Slate column. So scoring the scratch under his Right of the Taxpayer it'll have to be. Okay, here's the pitch. The New York Fed and its leaders has failed us, especially those selected from banks to sit on the board. They, with their clubhouse and their group think and their group sex got us into this sitch, and they should get us out. Or they should at least be punished and forced to hand over some dough. Nothing too outlandish. Whatever covers a roundtrip ticket to the Mayflower Hotel and back these days should do it.
So whom have the banks chosen to be the public representatives on the board during the past decade, as the crisis developed and unfolded? Dick Fuld, the former chairman of Lehman; Jeff Immelt, the chairman of GE; Gene McGrath, the chairman of Con Edison; Ronay Menschel, the chairwoman of Phipps Houses and also, not insignificantly, the wife of Richard Menschel, a former senior partner at Goldman. Whom did the Board of Governors choose as its public representatives? Steve Friedman, the former chairman of Goldman; Pete Peterson; Jerry Speyer, CEO of real estate giant Tishman Speyer; and Jerry Levin, the former chairman of Time Warner. These were the people who were supposedly representing our interests!
So is it any wonder that the N.Y. Fed has been complicit in the single greatest bailout of poorly managed banks in history? Any wonder that it has given--with virtually no strings attached--practically the entire contents of the Treasury to the very banks whose inability to manage risk has brought our economy to its knees? Any wonder that not a single CEO or senior executive of a major bank has been removed as a condition of hundreds of billions of direct cash and guarantees? Any wonder that, despite its fundamental responsibility to preserve the integrity of the banking system, it sat quietly on the sidelines as the leverage beneath the banks exploded and the capital underlying their investments shrank?
I do not mean to suggest that any of these board members intentionally discharged their duties with the specific goal of benefitting themselves. Rather, what we have seen is disastrous groupthink, a way of looking at the world from the perspective of Wall Street and Wall Street alone. That failure has brought the world economy to the edge of unraveling. And some of Geithner's early missteps betrayed an inability to get beyond this tunnel vision, such as the idea that the banks need to be first in line to be paid and to be paid in full. We can only hope that Geithner, who, to his credit, did try to raise some of the regulatory issues that mattered while he was at the Fed, is no longer in the mental prison of Lower Manhattan and will have more success now that he has a board of one--President Obama.
Perhaps it is time to calculate what these board members have been paid by their banks in salary and bonuses over the years and seek to have them return it to the public as small compensation for their failed oversight of the N.Y. Fed. And more fundamentally, perhaps it is time to take a hard look at the governing structure and supposed independence of this institution that actually controls the use of our tax dollars and, heaven help us, the fate of our economy.