Readings for September 16, 2011 Meeting of Economics 24-1: Understanding the Lesser Depression
Yes, Contractionary Fiscal Policy Is Contractionary

The Obama Administration and Citigroup in March 2009

I am quite skeptical that this could possibly have happened the way it is recounted:

Ron Suskind's new book: states Geithner and the Treasury Department ignored a March 2009 order to consider dissolving banking giant Citigroup while continuing stress tests on banks, which were burdened with toxic mortgage assets.

In the book, Obama does not deny Suskind’s account, but does not reveal what he told Geithner when he found out. “Agitated may be too strong a word,” Suskind quotes Obama as saying. Obama says later in the book that he was trying to be decisive but “the speed with which the bureaucracy could exercise my decision was slower than I wanted.

Geithner says in the book that he did not recall that Obama was mad at him about the Citigroup decision and rejected allegations contained in White House documents that his department had been slow to enact the president’s plans.

I don’t slow walk the president on anything,” Geithner told Suskind.

"The Citbank incident, and others like it, reflected a more pernicious and personal dilemma emerging from inside the administration: that the young president’s authority was being systematically undermined or hedged by his seasoned advisers", Suskind writes.

As I understand it, a March 2009 Citigroup dissolution would have involved three parts:

  • The FDIC would have seized its commercial banking operations following its standard procedures.

  • The administration would have immediately thereafter injected enough common-stock equity into Citigroup to gain a majority of its shares, appointed a new CEO, and then had that new CEO take the investment banking operations into bankruptcy.

  • Those to whom Citigroup owed liabilities would have been told to take their liabilities to the Fed which would accept them as collateral for Fed loans.

  • The "good bank" portions of the investment banking operations would then have been immediately spun off as a separate for-profit corporations while the bad bank portions remained in bankruptcy with the Fed as their principal creditor.

Tim Geithner in March 2009 had no confirmed deputies, limited ability to command the Treasury building to do anything, and it is not clear to me how much constructive planning you can do beforehand other than selecting your candidate for interim CEO and figuring out where to draw the dotted line between the "good bank" and the "bad bank" parts...