Robert Kuttner—economist, co-founder of The American Prospect, and author of Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency—has managed to unearth some secret government memos between President Obama and his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel. However, since they just fell into his hands, he can’t really verify their authenticity.
This tongue-in-cheek account of the inner workings of the White House (from an outsider’s perspective) presents a conversation that probably isn’t happening, but definitely should be. Robert Rubin protegés Larry Summers and Tim Geithner have shown that they have too much faith in free markets and are hesitant to nationalize the banks, even though more and more voices from both sides of the aisle are piping up in favor of “the dreaded n-word.” In this article from the Huffington Post, Robert Kuttner lays out a smart, commonsense approach to solving the bank crisis and putting the brakes on the Recession.
To: Rahm Emanuel
Subject: The Banks
I’m concerned that I’m getting only one viewpoint on how to solve the banking crisis, from Larry and Tim. A kind of echo-chamber effect sets in where they talk mainly to Wall Street and to each other, and different views are not heard. Larry is a very effective gatekeeper.
They both seem convinced that bailing out outfits like AIG and Citigroup, using even more money both from Treasury and the Fed, is the only way to go. And nobody inside the administration is really challenging them on the economics.
The problem is that neither the financial markets nor public opinion is buying it. My recovery package can’t work if the banks keep dragging down the economy, and time is not on our side. We’re burning through money that will be very difficult to get Congress to replenish if we blow it this time.
We’ve had some good strategy conversations about the politics. Limiting executive pay helps. So do these trips outside Washington where we can identify with ordinary people. But the Republicans are eating our lunch on the A.I.G. bailout, and Lou Dobbs is making us look like allies of the people who caused the crisis. The press is full of stories about people from Countrywide and the hedge funds profiting a second time, as purchasers of underwater bonds. We can survive all that–if Larry and Tim’s plan actually works. But I’m beginning to wonder.
Could you set up some conversations with some well informed people who have a different view? What’s your advice on how to handle Larry and Tim? We can’t very well go behind their backs. Larry is keeping a low profile, and letting Tim take all the heat even though Larry totally shares the approach. Tim is all alone. He doesn’t have a senior sub-cabinet official confirmed yet to help him. A chorus is building calling for his head. Do we want to set up some very discreet one-on-one conversations with critics, or bring Larry and Tim in, too?
Also, Rubin is constantly on the phone to everyone. His fingerprints are all over this mess, but people still take him seriously. Is he looking out for the system, or for Citi and Goldman? I’m beginning to have buyer’s remorse that we hired so many of his protégés.