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No peacocks, no jerks, no whiners


This is my first real blog post this year. I would like to wish everyone a very happy 2013, and hope that you had a relaxing and happy holidays.

Yesterday during the nomination of Jack Lew as the next treasury secretary, President Obama congratulated outgoing secretary Tim Geithner by saying, “When the history books are written, Tim Geithner is going to go down as one of our finest Secretaries of the Treasury”. The president stopped a long applause from the audience with the remark, “All right, don’t embarrass him. On a personal note, Tim has been a wonderful friend and a dependable advisor throughout these last four years. There’s an unofficial saying over at Treasury — no peacocks, no jerks, no whiners. That would be a good saying for all of Washington — (laughter) — no peacocks, no jerks, no whiners. Few embody that ideal better than Tim Geithner.”

This brings me to two thoughts. First, was Tim Geithner really one of the finest secretaries of the treasury?

The president praises all his outgoing members of his cabinet, but this one for Geithner was extraordinary. We obviously should not take his words for granted. Most opinions on such an issue will be biased towards recent history. Felix Salmon has a blog post on Tim Geithner’s legacy. My personal opinion is not at all important here, since I have no knowledge of the performances of the 74 treasury secretaries that preceded Geithner.

I will still go ahead and say that I think he did a pretty decent job. Of course there has been a lot of criticism about his favors to the Wall Street. A particularly scathing criticism comes from an insider, former FDIC chairperson Sheila Bair, who thinks that the bank bailouts were staged to save Citigroup, and other banks did not require the capital injections, calling him “bailouter-in-chief“. I think there may be some truth to these assertions. There were philosophical differences between Bair and Geithner on what was the most effective way out of the crisis. It is very much possible that Geithner thought bank bailouts was truly the least evil of all alternatives in front of him at that time, and because such a strategy did not make sense to Sheila Bair owing to their philosophical differences, she thought there could be an ulterior motive to it. However, such accusations are particularly serious and should be examined closely because the criticisms are not so much on his competence as on his intentions. In my mind (and most others), allegations of mala fide intentions are much more serious than allegations of mere lack of competence. The burden of proof is higher for more serious allegations.

I am an outsider to the world of Washington and don’t pay really close attention to politics and therefore I do not have the tools to delve deeper into the above allegations. One bit of information that I do recall is the list of the biggest donations to the Obama and Romney campaign for the Nov. 2012 elections (see chart below). An examination of the list shows that the Wall Street was very much opposed to President Obama’s re-election.  Even though it was well known that Tim Geithner would not continue even if President Obama was re-elected, this antagonization of Wall street makes me believe that the that Geithner (or Obama’s team) did not favor Wall Street as much as the latter expected him to.   This is by no means the best or the only piece of evidence in this matter.  I hope we find out more about the truth.

Donations to president campaigns

Now, I move on to my second thought: I had some inkling about what “no peacocks, no jerks, no whiners” means, but checked out the Urban Dictionary (for slang definitions) just to be sure.

Peacock: A guy who acts normal around people he knows/is used to but gets loud and starts acting like a douche (similar to a peacock in mating season) when around, but not limited to, attractive women. This can also apply to women but that term would be defined as shecock.
Jerk: An insensitive, selfish, ignorant, cocky person who is inconsiderate.
Whiner: Someone who won’t stop complaining about everybody else, but yet gets mad when they hear other people complain. They usually pay more attention how other people make them feel than to what they are actually saying.

It’s a phrase I have come to love. I am not sure if I do embody these ideals (I hope I do), but I certainly expect people around me to :-). It’s coming to a wall near me.

The case for universal health care


I believe that free markets, with regulatory oversight, provide the best systems for most economic sectors. There are a few exceptions to that – and one such exception is healthcare. The reason, I think is that systems that allow maximizing profits for companies, are not necessarily the systems that are the best for the consumers. In most instances, the consumers can tolerate inadequacies of the systems – e.g. not all can afford to go to a spa, or a vacation to Hawaii, or a television at home. But as far as health of the individuals is concerned, consumers are in no position to tolerate inability to access healthcare. We ought to provide everyone access to health. I believe that healthcare is a right (as opposed to the US constitution), and as a society, we have a moral and ethical obligation to see that fellow human beings have access to healthcare at all times, regardless of their social or monetary status. The economist has a great post which showcases the almost universal health care coverage in Mexico.

An example of what happens without the safety net of healthcare is presented in the article, that I quote below:

“Julio Frenk, a former health secretary who oversaw the beginning of Seguro Popular and is now dean of Harvard’s School of Public Health, recalls meeting a family in which the mother had needed a Caesarean section and the baby had spent a couple of weeks in intensive care. The child survived, but the medical bill cost his father his animals and tools and meant that his brother had to be taken out of school. “People liquidated their productive assets and their poverty was transmitted to the next generation,” says Mr Frenk.”