Defending Geithner

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The Dartmouth, our college’s trusty high school newspaper, published yet another questionable opinion piece in their July 23rd issue. Their most recent endeavor centered on one of Dartmouth’s most accomplished alums, former Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner ‘83.

Mr. Geithner’s recent speaking tour has been notable for the Secretary’s six-figure price tag; Jon Miller—misguidedly—condemns Mr. Geithner on the grounds that his venture specifically into high-priced public speaking, and more broadly into the private sector directly following his public service, is evidence of “covert corruption and cronyism.” His indictment transmogrifies into an attack on Congress for being wrought with “career politicians” who do not serve the public good so much as their own. Mr. Miller goes further to condemn Mr. Geithner’s Dartmouth education as being devoid of holistic, ethical values based solely on the claim that it failed to discourage cronyism amongst alumni. These are questionable, baseless claims to make.

What is particularly troubling about Mr. Miller’s article is the flippant irresponsibility that characterizes his portrayal of the situation. Mr. Miller asserts that solely “tak[ing] private sector jobs that overlap with companies [he] previously regulated” is evidence of corruption. In hypothetical world devoid of facts, might these jobs have been garnered in a below-the-table fashion? Sure, but without evidence supporting this, Mr. Miller’s argument is at best thoughtless finger pointing.

Mr. Miller doubts that Mr. Geithner could be “instilling invaluable information about the economy” to these financial institutions, or at least nothing commensurate with his pay. Is it not possible that Mr. Geithner’s wealth of experience as an economist would be of value to financial institutions? Should we disregard the fact that Mr. Geithner might actually be a good public speaker who provides helpful insight to these companies? Outside of just public speaking, I find it not only plausible, but probable that Mr. Geithner’s Dartmouth education and prior work experience leaves him particularly equipped to succeed in the private sector.

Mr. Miller compares politicians-turned-public-speakers to politicians-turned-lobbyists, and asserts that public speakers should be similarly barred—as lobbyists are—from speaking in the two years following their term in government. This claim is erroneous if only because public speaking and lobbying are hardly similar at all. While lobbyists use their experience in Congress to sway politicians’ votes, public speakers aim to spread their knowledge to their listeners as a means of education.

Were a two-year stay to be placed on Mr. Geithner’s ability to voice his understanding of the economic climate, his passion might not be fresh, and more importantly his views might no longer be pertinent or applicable to the current state of the economy. Mr. Geithner should not only be allowed to speak, but encouraged to, regardless of price. Companies should be—and evidently are—lining up to hear of his experiences while they are still relevant.

What is perhaps more troubling about Mr. Miller’s assertions is that he seems to be suggesting, in a broad sense, that after one has engaged in public servitude, he should no longer be lawfully employable in the private sector, or at least in the field that the politician regulated. He never acknowledges that one of these jobs might be the result of merit, and not surreptitious behavior. While employment of the latter kind assuredly occurs, to imply, without any evidence, that Mr. Geithner’s employment falls into this category is irresponsible.

 Mr. Miller at once condemns career politicians and former public servants who leave politics for the private sector—as public speakers, or otherwise. As Mr. Geithner had previously served as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and then for four years as President Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury, he had spent most of his life in public service. With Mr. Miller’s seemingly conflicting condemnations, it would appear that he would recommend that Timothy Geithner, one of America’s most accomplished economists of the last decade, continue his career in neither the public nor private sector. Perhaps, Mr. Miller would have Mr. Geithner sit at home and collect unemployment checks. Maybe, Mr. Miller wants Mr. Geithner to get some employment wholly unrelated to both his previous work experience and his education.

I disagree. I applaud Mr. Geithner for capitalizing on opportunities to speak and take a private sector job not only as a means of maximizing his personal wealth, but more so as a chance to spread his experience-laden knowledge of the economy to those who wish to learn, and to break the mold of the career politician. The notion that Mr. Geithner, after spending tireless years as one of the most prominent leaders in guiding America through our most recent economic crisis, should be lawfully forbidden from taking a private sector job in finance is preposterous. Mr. Geithner’s wealth of knowledge, experience, expertise, and stature in the field should be sold to the highest bidder, and Mr. Geithner should reap the benefits.

Suggesting that Mr. Geithner should not be allowed to work in finance only reinforces the draws of a career in politics that Mr. Miller so harshly censures. No politicians should be bared from leaving the public sector to pursue a career in the private sector with the skills they have acquired in politics. Mr. Geithner should serve as a model for those very career politicians with whom Mr. Miller associates him. 

Finally, Mr. Miller suggests, again baselessly, that Mr. Geithner left Dartmouth with a poor education. Toward the end of his piece, he contends that Dartmouth students should be held to a standard that includes “rejecting conflicts of interest that undermine trust.” I would counter that Mr. Geithner is an exemplar of several of the values for which Dartmouth students should strive. Dartmouth should endeavor to engender an understanding of the importance of education and the proliferation of knowledge, which Mr. Geithner seems to posses based on his desire to spread his experience through speaking engagements. Dartmouth students should be inspired to serve the public and be a positive influence on our country, just as Mr. Geithner has in his years of public servitude. Dartmouth students should strive for success, measured monetarily or otherwise, as Mr. Geithner has and continues to achieve. Lastly, a proper Dartmouth education should teach not to judge or assume baselessly and to regard everyone as innocent until proven guilty. Perhaps, then, Mr. Miller ought to spend more time cultivating himself at Dartmouth rather than condemning those before him. 

— Matthew A. Quartner