The good news: Summers is gone Jan 1 (no word yet on Geithner).That's the word from a guy who works on Wall Street and whose word I trust. He is telling it straight. Obama made a horrible mistake to continue the Bush financial policies! And it still isn't clear that Obama realizes this or is willing to change direction. (One of the biggest donors to Obama is Wall Street, and it is hard to bite the hand that feeds you.)
The bad news? I am not sure what (if any) impact this will have on the administration’s economic policies.
To review: Summers is the former Clinton Treasury Secretary, mentored by Robert Rubin. As such, he was one of (many) architects of the financial crisis. In addition to believing all of the usual foolishness about efficient markets, he bought into the radical deregulation arguments pushed by the free market absolutists.
Summers was the Treasury Secretary when Glass Steagall was repealed. Instead of speaking out against the irresponsible Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999) that allowed the Financialization of America to progress, he actively supported it. Instead of explaining to the public how Glass Steagall had prevented every Wall Street crisis since the Great Depression from spilling over onto Main Street, he rolled over for Citibank.
Understand that the repeal of Glass Steagall was not a cause of the crisis. But, it allowed the net damage to be far greater and extend far wider than it would have otherwise been. From a libertarian perspective, it was emblematic of the corporate takeover of the legislative process. For a hefty fee (aka campaign donation) you could pretty much write the regulations that covered your own industry. How could that ever go wrong?
Summers oversaw the passage of the even more ruinous Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000. The CFMA exempted all financial derivatives from any and all regulatory oversight. The CFMA not made the AIG collapse possible, it made it highly likely. It helped to set up both the Lehman and Bear Stearns’ collapses. The CFMA allowed AIG FP to write over $3 trillion in derivatives, reserving precisely zero dollars in case these insurance policy-like obligations had to be paid out.
Failing upwards: When Obama appointment the Rubin duo of Summers and Geithner, it a perverse reward for a job done poorly. The two were creatures of the banking system, and were unlikely to do anything that threatened the existing order. Even worse, it created a dynamic where the new administration was committed to defending the policies that helped to contribute to the crisis in the first place. Instead of To Hell with the Banks, Save the Banking System, we got the exact reverse. This was Rubin’s lasting gift to the Obama White House: A third term for George W. Bush’s economic policies. When Obama becomes a one-termer, it will be his own fault for following this horrific economic advice.
Here's Ritholtz's parting shot at Obama:
As Allan Meltzer stated, “Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin—it just doesn’t work.” The change people voted for never appeared, and the Summers led economic team gave us two more years of Bush bailout policies. For that humongous error, his departure is a welcome change.