Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week that she won't seek a second term in the Obama administration if given a chance. Ditto for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who says he'll step down sometime this year.
What about the Cabinet member most relevant to your investments, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner?
As far as I know, Geithner hasn't commented on whether he'd be willing to serve a second term. The question is whether he deserves one or not.
With a little over two years under his belt, it's worth noting that Geithner is pushing the average tenure of Treasury secretaries. Going back to Donald Regan in the early '80s, the average Treasury secretary has lasted three years. Both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush went through three Treasury secretaries over their respective two terms. There's high turnover in this profession, and for good reason: It entails lots of responsibility, and it's very easy to disappoint the public. While maybe not the most prominent cabinet member, the actions of the Treasury secretary are probably the most visible to the public -- particularly over the past three years.
So what about Geithner? I can think of a few pros and cons.
Pro: He's probably wiser than you think. A frequent criticism hurled at policymakers is that they didn't see the financial crisis coming. At all. Totally blind to the bubble. This is true for many, but it's hard to lay the generalization on Geithner. While heading up the New York Fed from 2003-2009, Geithner warned several times of trouble brewing in the banking sector.
Con: Inability to get it done. Geithner may have been more prescient than most regulators, but he doesn't seem to have the spine necessary to have done enough about it. Warning of potential danger and acting to prevent potential danger are two different things.
Pro: TARP repayments. TARP, the 2008 bank bailout, was created and executed by Geithner's predecessor, Hank Paulson. Geithner's main involvement in TARP was getting money back to taxpayers. Here, he was successful. Within months of taking office in 2009, several large banks, including Goldman Sachs
Con: Bailouts gone astray. TARP was meant to be a bank bailout program. That's what it was designed for. That's what it was voted into law for. Yet soon after Geithner came into office, TARP turned into an auto bailout program, a credit market bailout program, a homeowner bailout program, a small business lending program, and a community development program. These may have been admirable causes, but they turned TARP into a political slush fund. And almost all of these supplemental programs were utter failures.
Pro: Doesn't give a damn. In July 2009, Geithner told a group of Chinese students that China's Treasury investments were "very safe." They laughed at him. Out loud. Right to his face. Several pundits earn their living eviscerating Geithner's every word. You have to give it up to someone who takes that much heat and still works hard at a thankless, relatively low-pay job. Most people would have given up long ago.
Con: Not a great communicator. How the public perceives what Washington is doing is probably more important than what it actually does. Geithner does an OK job of this, but his performance in front of the camera shows his intellect is more impressive than his personality. If all you know about Geithner is what you've seen during his TV appearances, you probably wonder whether he has a clue what he's doing.
Pro: Got a massive stimulus through. The 2009 stimulus program was probably more successful than most make it out to be. Its main goal was not, ironically, to stimulate. It was to prevent collapse. Just look at the composition of the spending. Much of the money went to programs like state aid to prevent teacher and firefighter layoffs, and Medicaid subsidies to provide insurance to the unemployed. This was plugging a hole, not adding fuel. Measured against what could have occurred, the package deserves decent marks. And Geithner deserves a lot of the credit.
Con: Selling the stimulus package was bungled. Those who criticize the stimulus package hold a nearly universal position: Rather than a stimulus program, they would have preferred tax cuts to get the economy going. Yet over one-third of the stimulus program -- $300 billion worth -- came in the form of tax cuts. This just shows how poorly the plan was sold to the public.
In the end, I think Geithner will move on for one reason. With Treasury secretary on his resume, he can now earn a fortune in the private sector. Geithner currently earns $191,300 a year. Former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin earned that much every 4.5 days at Citigroup, where he became a director after his Treasury stint for doing, by his own admission, not very much. Hard for anyone to turn down that kind of money.
What do you think? Should Geithner stay or go? Let loose in the comment section below.
Fool contributor Morgan Housel owns Bank of America preferred. American Express is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. The Fool owns shares of Bank of America. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.