Our take: Timothy Geithner will leave the U.S. Treasury by the end of the month, and Obama will nominate White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew in his place. Neil Irwin of the Washington Post writes about Geithner's importance to the U.S. economy over the past four years.
With the nomination of his successor this morning, Timothy Geithner is presumably eyeing the exits at the Treasury building even more eagerly than he has for the last couple of years, which was already pretty eagerly. So it is time to start reckoning with his record.
He was not a highly visible politician or statesman like previous secretaries John Connally and James Baker (Connally, who served under Nixon, was viewed as a future president, and Baker, under Reagan, would go on to serve as secretary of state). Presiding over the dismal aftermath of a horrendous downturn as Geithner did, he did not win the adulatory magazine covers of a Bob Rubin. Profiles of Geithner inevitably seem to make much of his youthful looks, though when he took the job in 2009 he was older than were either Larry Summers or Alexander Hamilton. (Vogue noted that he “has the kind of looks that can go either way: Half an inch one way he’s John F. Kennedy; half an inch the other he’s Lyle Lovett.”)
But make no mistake about it: Geithner has been among the most important Treasury secretaries in history. Even if he never holds another public job, he has secured a place among the most consequential shapers of economic policy of the 21st century.
Geithner took office at an extraordinary time, with an extraordinary assignment. In the fourth quarter of 2008, when he was tapped for Treasury secretary, the U.S. economy was contracting at an 8.9 percent annual rate, the steepest decline since the Great Depression; the contraction would continue at a 5.3 percent rate in the first quarter, when President Obama was inaugurated and Geithner took office at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue. On Jan. 26, 2009, the day Geithner took office, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index closed at 836.59, which was down 47 percent from its 2007 high.
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