For the sake of argument:
When we first heard about Tim Geithner’s failure to properly pay his taxes, we were underwhelmed. A trivial scandalette, we thought, one that wasn’t worth derailing a nomination over, especially for such a significant role during a time when banking is in crisis.
But the speed argument is illegitimate. We saw what happened when TARP was rushed. We can take a few extra days to fill this post.
But what about the basic infraction? The improper tax payments. Here’s what we think happened. Geithner knew he was in something of a tax grey area, but also figured he wasn’t committing any real crime or anything that bad (we don’t think so either). At worst, he thought, he’d have to pay some back taxes or something and move on. Besides, when TurboTax resolved a murky situation in his favour, he had a pretty darn good excuse — the most popular tax software there was told him he was fine.
This is the problem though. This is the reason we’re in this gigantic mess. A series of easy choices, where someone decides that they can get away with something tiny, knowing it’s not that big of a deal and that they’ll probably just get a slap on the wrist.. We have no idea if Timothy Geithner frequently thinks like this — but this tax issue is the only thing we have to go on.
Just because he has a Boy Scout haircut and a Boy Scout name (Timothy) it doesn’t necessarily follow that he’s actually a Boy Scout.
We know that not everyone would’ve made the same decision here. We’ve worked with people in our professional life, who everytime they encountered something legally or ethically murky opted to make the
conservative choice that wasn’t immediately beneficial to them. They do exist, believe it or not. We suspect a guy like Warren Buffett would’ve asked for a professional opinion on the tax issue, were he in that same position.
Again, it’s not that Geithner is so bad, it’s just that his mindset is apparently similar to the people who got us here. Substitute “Moody’s” for “TurboTax” and it should be be obvious.
It’s moot at this point. The speed of the banking crisis means the full Senate will sign off on today’s finance committee vote. But we will soon have a Treasury Secretary who was basically of the same mindset as everyone else, rather than a real clean break from the failed, convenient thinking of the past.
Finance Committee Approves Geithner