I was impressed that Treasury officials had a pretty good understanding of the impediments to growth going forward. They understood that the core problem preventing business expansion isn’t access to capital but absence of demand. But I got the sense that, as they see things, they are boxed-in on that front, paralyzed and hoping for the best. When someone asked about monetary policy, an official said he really couldn’t comment on behalf of the Fed, but then proceeded to comment anyway, that in a very sharp downtown the Fed would have (presumably unconventional) ways to intervene, but that we were probably near the limits of what the central bank would do on the economy’s current path. Regarding their own bailiwick, an official perceptively pointed out that the set of spending programs Congress seems capable of delivering and the set of programs the public would consider wise and legitimate seem not to intersect. All of this resonated well with me: I view the current macro-sluggishness as a function of insufficient demand, yet stand with the hypothetical public in being hesitant to support “stimulus” and “jobs” programs that strike me as haphazardly targeted and sometimes wasteful or corrupt.

この中のFRBについてのコメントは、Marginal Revolutionのアレックス・タバロックは次のように報告している

There was a recognition that the Fed could do “dramatic” things but a sense that the theory here was uncertain and untested.

このタバロックの記述に対し、Economists for Firing Larry Summersは、(自分は会合に招かれなかった、というアメリカンジョークを交えつつ)25ベーシスポイントを0にしたり超過準備への付利をやめたり4000億ドルの追加的な量的緩和をすることに「劇的」も「検証されていない」も「不確か」もへったくれも無いだろう、一方で金融危機後にインフレ目標を維持することに関しての不作為の結果は過去17年間の日本で繰り返し検証済みではないか、と噛み付いている。

ワルドマンと対照的に、会合に対して最も醒めた見方をしているのがNaked Capitalismのイブ・スミスで、ワルドマンの報告を紹介したエントリでは、「非常に優れた丁寧なまとめ(extremely good and gracious summary)」と評価しつつも、「ワルドマンが会合を楽しんだことに少し驚いた(I’m a bit astonished to find that Waldman found the session enjoyable)」とも書いている。実際、この少し前のスミス自身の報告では、のっけから以下のようなことを書いている。

Readers may wonder why I haven’t written about my visit on Monday to the Treasury, but truth be told, I headed out afterward with Mike Konczal and Steve Waldman to get a drink, and we all looked at each other quizzically. I said something along the lines of “I’m not certain there is anything to write about,” and they nodded in agreement. I had less than a half page of notes.



Obviously the headline act was Timothy Geithner. Off the record (or “on deep background”), Geithner is entirely different from the sometimes stiff character who appears on television. He is fun to argue with, very smart, good natured, and intellectually wily. As Yves Smith quipped afterwards, Geithner “gives good meeting.”


As Tyler said after an earlier visit, Geithner is smart and deep. Geithner took questions on any topic. Bear in mind that taking questions from people like Mike Konczal, Tyler, or Interfluidity is not like taking questions from the press. Geithner quickly identified the heart of every question and responded in a way that showed a command of both theory and fact. We went way over scheduled time. He seemed to be having fun.


One bit I am still puzzled about is the amount of time Geithner spent with us. He is famed for keeping a tight schedule, and he showed up at 4:30 PM and stayed 50 minutes, which was 20 minutes beyond the official meeting close. Although the Treasury staffers who had run the session before arrived Geithner were articulate and knowledgeable, he is particularly adept in this smallish meeting format and seemed to noodle our questions enough so that his responses were typically more direct yet managed to incorporate a lot of thoughtful nuance (not that he didn’t avoid certain issues, mind you; he argued that Treasury had limited authority on a certain issue; I pointed out ways in which Treasury more than enough leverage to bring a bank to heel; he avoided acknowledging the matter I raised; more on that in due course). He did make some minor disclosures (like saying he wasn’t supposed to talk about Fed policy, then doing just that, hinting that the catfood commission might recommend changes in taxes, which in context might mean more consumption taxes, as in a VAT).


It was a pretty casual meet and greet. There weren’t any presentations, nothing to be sold on. We went to questions immediately. Geithner is very smart and personable, and it was very useful to chat with Treasury officials on background over the strengths and weaknesses of the financial reform bill.

上記でタバロックが「以前の会合」として昨年11月の会合のタイラー・コーエンの報告にリンクしているように、財務省がブロガーとこうした会合を持ったのは今回が初めてではないようだ。やはり8/16の会合に出席したSeeking AlphaのJohn Lounsburyによると、「The Treasury Department has established a program inviting various financial bloggers to have open discussion meetings with senior Treasury officials 4-6 times a year」との由。


Despite our heterogeniety, we all took a skeptical posture towards the Treasury team. One has to think they anticipate that, which then begs the question of what they expect to accomplish with these meetings. We aren’t journalists, so the access card does not work; the infrequency and format of these sessions means they don’t build personal rapport (and there are good reasons why not; from our end, it costs time and money to go to DC; from their end, we aren’t important enough to warrant more frequent contact).
So they may have other motivations, but a safe assumption is that they regard this as marketing, and a famous cliche is “50% of what I spend on advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which 50%.” We probably look like part of the wasted 50%, but they can’t be certain, and the costs to them of having this sort of meeting are low, so they might as well keep the experiment going.


Finally, one reader did tell me Alex Tabarrok got some comments criticizing him for falling into Treasury’s orbit by meeting with them. While in theory one could lose one’s edge by staring the opposition in the eye, sports teams do this as a matter of course. If we saw the staff of the Treasury more often and we had something to gain, that could be a concern, but these sessions take a lot of time, and I question what the upside for bloggers is. The immediate one is getting one’s nose inside a new tent, but that is a matter of novelty and wears off after the first encounter. I suspect the main effect is that we and Treasury each sharpen our games a teeny bit by engaging directly on points of contention.

*1:原文では「catfood commission」となっているが、ここでの解説によると、社会保障費の削減によって受給者がキャットフードくらいしか食べられなくなる、という意味を込めて反対派が名付けた仇名とのこと。Wikipediaの説明はここ、委員会のHPはここ