Policy: Economy

Timothy Geithner: 'Of course' big banks are still too big to fail

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Treasury,Finance and Banking,PennAve,Joseph Lawler,Economy,Federal Reserve,Timothy Geithner

U.S. big banks remain too big to fail without bringing down the financial system, according to former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who said that the efforts to prevent banks from receiving future bailouts are “like Moby-Dick for economists or regulators. It's not just quixotic, it's misguided.”

New York Times financial reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin interviewed Geithner, President Obama's former Treasury secretary, several times and read his forthcoming autobiography, “Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises,” before its May 12 publication date.

Sorkin reports that Geithner, who as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and then as Treasury secretary played a key role in orchestrating the TARP bailout of banks, addressed the topic of too-big-to-fail while lecturing a class taught by Larry Summers, who served in the Obama administration with him as an economic adviser and was Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton. “Does it still exist?” Geithner asked of too-big-to-fail. “Yeah, of course it does.”

During the administration's push to pass the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill into law in 2010, Geithner said that it would end bailouts and the perception that big banks enjoyed an implicit backstop.

Sorkin also reports that Geithner's book reveals that his support for the provision of Dodd-Frank known as the Volcker Rule, intended to prevent banks from trading for their own profit with depositors' money, was "certainly political," and that he was opposed to the measure. Regulatory agencies finally approved the Volcker rule in December.

Geithner's book also mentions that he offered to resign as Treasury secretary just three months into his tenure after a disastrous speech, but then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told him to stay. Ultimately, Geithner served for the duration of Obama's first term, outlasting Summers and other top economic officials in the administration.

Others involved in the financial crisis and the administration of TARP have already published books, including Geithner's predecessor, George W. Bush's Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, as well as Bush himself. Geithner was portrayed negatively in books by Sheila Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; Neil Barofsky, the inspector general for TARP; and Elizabeth Warren, the leader of the oversight panel for TARP who is now a senator from Massachusetts.

Geithner now works for the private equity firm Warburg Pincus.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman throughout the financial crisis, is working on his own memoir, which will be published in 2015 and for which he will receive a seven-figure payment.

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