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Geithner About Town

Timothy Geithner is having a mini-media blitz this week. Yesterday he visited New York City and vowed quick action on financial reform regulations, highlighting writing strong consumer rules and integrating with the world on capital requirements for banks.

“Capital requirements are the financial equivalent of having speed limits on our highways, antilock brakes and air bags in our cars,” Geithner said. “Part of what made this crisis so severe was that capital requirements failed to keep up with risks and failed to force firms to prepare for the possibility of a very severe recession with a substantial reduction in house prices.”

Geithner said that using the powers provided by the new law, U.S. regulators will make sure that financial firms hold a lot more capital than they did before the crisis.

That integration is going horribly at Basel, with a tiny capital requirement of 3%, a host of new entities (including stock in other financial companies) counting as capital and an eight-year lag time for compliance. It basically makes the speed limits on the highway akin to the Autobahn. Geithner might want to look into it.

Today, the Treasury Secretary shows up with an op-ed in the New York Times, touting the TARP and the Recovery Act, highlighting that Blinder/Zandi study that must have sent the White House over the moon (the one that said their work averted a second Great Depression), and basically telling the economic story you’ll see the Administration try to tell between now and November.

• Exports are booming because American companies are very competitive and lead the world in many high-tech industries.

• Private job growth has returned — not as fast as we would like, but at an earlier stage of this recovery than in the last two recoveries. Manufacturing has generated 136,000 new jobs in the past six months.

• Businesses have repaired their balance sheets and are now in a strong financial position to reinvest and grow.

• American families are saving more, paying down their debt and borrowing more responsibly. This has been a necessary adjustment because the borrow-and-spend path we were on wasn’t sustainable.

• The auto industry is coming back, and the Big Three — Chrysler, Ford and General Motors — are now leaner, generating profits despite lower annual sales.

• Major banks, forced by the stress tests to raise capital and open their books, are stronger and more competitive. Now, as businesses expand again, our banks are better positioned to finance growth.

• The government’s investment in banks has already earned more than $20 billion in profits for taxpayers, and the TARP program will be out of business earlier than expected — and costing nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars less than projected last year.

Can you feel the excitement?

Geithner acknowledges a few challenges with digging out of the hole caused by the Great Recession, particularly unemployment and state budgets, but he doesn’t mention 1) inequality or 2) foreclosures, two of the greatest impediments to economic growth right now. He just ignores them. And this inattention has actually characterized Treasury the last 18 months – looking at GDP numbers and bank balanace sheets, not so much foreclosure statistics and wage growth charts.

You cannot convince people that the economy is surging when they don’t feel it in their own lives. You have to address reality, not bar graphs.

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David Dayen

David Dayen