Edward Helmore, of the (London) Observer, provides this weekend the neatest distillation of the "Geithner is Rubin" meme that I’ve yet seen:
For Obama, the selection of Rubin acolytes suggests vulnerability. Yet defenders of the Rubinistas say it is not policy that binds them but their braininess.
But for Obama, who promised ‘change you can believe in’, the selection of Rubin protégés – what one critic called the ‘essence of the Washington-New York finance axis of power’ – has raised eyebrows.
Wow. In the space of three sentences, we’ve got "acolytes", "Rubinistas", "protégés", and a quote from Ben Stein!
In what way is Geithner meant to be a protégé of Rubin? Here’s his official bio:
Mr. Geithner joined the Department of Treasury in 1988 and worked in three administrations for five Secretaries of the Treasury in a variety of positions.
Yes, Rubin was one of those five Secretaries. But if I recall correctly, Summers always stood between Geithner and Rubin on the Treasury org chart. Rubin and Summers were fully-fledged members of the Committee to Save the World; Geithner was one of the key people charged with implementing their plans. I don’t see how that makes him a Rubin protégé.
After all, when Geithner left Treasury and moved to the IMF, he immediately started defending, in a most forthright manner, the sovereign-bankruptcy proposals of his new boss, Anne Krueger — proposals which Treasury was always lukewarm about, at best. Does that make him a Krueger protégé too? Or does that just make him a good public servant who does what his bosses ask of him?
It’s even more ridiculous to think of Summers as a Rubin acolyte — when Summers arrived at Treasury, he was already an academic superstar with a John Bates Clark medal to his name — and he’d been chief economist of the World Bank.
I think what we’re seeing here is the last vestigial impulses of the days when Rubin was considered some kind of god among men: after all, if anybody ever walks in the same circles as such a divine being, surely he must be a protégé. And when the divine being is revealed to have feet of clay, the hit to his reputation redounds even unto his acolytes.
Sometimes, the protégé label is fair: think Paulson-Kashkari, or Rand-Greenspan. But I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that just because Rubin has screwed up at Citigroup, one should think less as a result of Summers or Geithner or Orszag.