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Friday, February 13, 2009

Tim Geithner, Tell Us Why You're Rescuing the Very Private Interests that Led Us to Ruin

The question about Geithner that intrigues me is why. Why do brainy technocrats like him often seem so clueless (or, if you like, indifferent) to the social reality once they have risen to the top of the governing heap? I think it may have something to do with the experience of being the smartest kid around and being told so from an early age. This could encourage a narrow kind of arrogance, but maybe also insecurity. Over many years, I have seen a certain type both in politics and private life who climbs the slippery pole by applying intellectual firepower and performing for the teacher. Superiors are impressed and always like this dutiful type. Promotions take them higher and higher. Then they get to the top and it becomes obvious something is missing -- a capacity to think creatively in strange new circumstances or the human empathy required to lead others.

My curbstone analysis could be dead wrong about Geithner but might aptly describe the career path of Larry Summers, Obama's economic advisor. Summers rose to the top -- president of Harvard -- on his well-known brilliance and he was done in there by his personal arrogance. He ingratiated himself with superiors on the way up and adjusted his economic thinking to seasonal changes in ideological fashion. He also learned the bureaucratic skills needed for policy infighting -- how to cut other economists with opposing views out of the debate. He somehow did so in the Obama White House.


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