Eliot Spitzer expounds on one of my favorite topics: The astonishing composition of the New York Federal Reserve:
who selected Geithner back in 2003? Well, the Fed board created a select committee to pick the CEO. This committee included none other than Hank Greenberg, then the chairman of AIG; John Whitehead, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs; Walter Shipley, a former chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, now JPMorgan Chase; and Pete Peterson, a former chairman of Lehman Bros. It was not a group of typical depositors worried about the security of their savings accounts but rather one whose interest was in preserving a capital structure and way of doing business that cried out for—but did not receive—harsh examination from the N.Y. Fed.
The composition of the New York Fed's board, which supervises the organization and current Chairman Friedman, is equally troubling. The board consists of nine individuals, three chosen by the N.Y. Fed member banks as their own representatives, three chosen by the member banks to represent the public, and three chosen by the national Fed Board of Governors to represent the public. In theory this sounds great: Six board members are "public" representatives.
So whom have the banks chosen to be the public representatives on the board during the past decade, as the crisis developed and unfolded? Dick Fuld, the former chairman of Lehman; Jeff Immelt, the chairman of GE; Gene McGrath, the chairman of Con Edison; Ronay Menschel, the chairwoman of Phipps Houses and also, not insignificantly, the wife of Richard Menschel, a former senior partner at Goldman. Whom did the Board of Governors choose as its public representatives? Steve Friedman, the former chairman of Goldman; Pete Peterson; Jerry Speyer, CEO of real estate giant Tishman Speyer; and Jerry Levin, the former chairman of Time Warner. These were the people who were supposedly representing our interests!
The Federal Reserve, of course, is one of the agencies charged with regulating the banking sector. This isn't quite like putting the proverbial foxes in charge of the henhouse. It's more like asking your kids to decide how much TV they should be allowed to watch. Spitzer smartly distinguishes outright corruption from its similarly insidious cousin: Self-interested groupthink. "I do not mean to suggest that any of these board members intentionally discharged their duties with the specific goal of benefitting themselves," he writes. "Rather, what we have seen is disastrous groupthink, a way of looking at the world from the perspective of Wall Street and Wall Street alone."