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Geithner takes charge.

Within days the story made the rounds of the international community: At the recent meeting in New York of the Group of Thirty, a discussion club of current mad former international economic officials, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker had this to say about the new youngish-looking President of the New York Federal Reserve, the 42-year-old Timothy Geithner: "Maybe in ten years we might allow Tim to become a member."

Volcker was of course joking, using the kind of acerbic humor that has become his trademark. But the former Fed Chairman inadvertently highlighted what has become the latest backroom criticism of the Geithner appointment, a criticism highly unfair. Even at this early stage, Federal Reserve observers point out, the brainy Geithner has surprised many with how quickly he has assumed command, both intellectually and managerially. The age complaint is unfair, the same observers charge, because it is inconsistent with the history of the New York Fed. Former New York Federal Reserve President E. Gerald Corrigan, a Volcker protege during the 1980s, took the helm of the institution at roughly the same age as Geithner, setting up the obvious charge of a double standard being applied.

None of this is to suggest the capable new head of the New York Fed does not face serious challenges. His first could potentially be finding a replacement in the next year or two for Executive Vice President and head of the Emerging Markets and International Affairs group Terrence J. Checki, long considered one of the most irreplaceable figures throughout the entire Federal Reserve system. Can Geithner convince Checki to finish his career at the Fed in lieu of lucrative outside employment? And if not, can an adequate replacement be found? A lot of Fed watchers are watching.

A second challenge relates to the New York Fed President's handling of Citigroup. It is common knowledge that Geithner's appointment resulted in large part because of heavy lobbying by Citigroup's Robert Rubin and Harvard President Lawrence Summers, both former Treasury Secretaries. Fed insiders say Geithner's real test will come in the event of a crisis in which he is forced to whip the Citigroup high command into line on an issue of real disagreement.

In the end, we suspect much of the criticism of Geithner's youth stems from simple jealousy, the regret by many that they will not be around to see the kind of global financial world with which Geithner and others of his generation will grapple. We also suspect that several years from now, after Geithner has succeeded on the job, the same critics will proclaim: "We always knew he'd be perfect. That's why we put him there."
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Title Annotation:Off The News; Timothy Geithner
Publication:The International Economy
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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