Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Problem with Geithner

The problem is his integrity.

He did not pay taxes that the IMF clearly informed him that he owed, and when he was audited, he still did not make good on all of the back taxes. He also continued to play fast and loose with the system.

And his name has just been sent to the full Senate for confirmation.
The committee passed him, despite all of this, because he's the genius that will fix our economy. Even though he couldn't understand Turbo Tax. (It's pretty simple, really. You hit the prompt that says "self-employed"). Not to mention the fact that the IMF not only apprised him of his tax obligation each quarter, but also wrote him a check intended to cover his tax obligation. So he kept the money from the IMF and did not pay the taxes.

Now many of us ordinary citizens have trouble with our taxes, but if we made this mistake we would pay fines, back taxes, and interest on what we owed. We might be terrorized by the IRS for years to come. Geithner has not experienced that. Apparently, there is not one law for the citizen and the politician in the United States.

What concerns me the most, though, is not Geithner's lack of integrity, although that is a big concern. What concerns me, is that our Senators and Representatives do not think it matters. After all, Geithner is the genius that came up with TARP, which was such an innovative solution that it was not used. So the congress critters have persuaded themselves that he is the only person who can save our economy from certain crash. And this bothers me quite a lot more.

First, the assumption that any one person can save an economy, any economy, by spending money we don't have defies common sense. It is what F.A. Hayek called The Fatal Conceit. Secondly, is it really possible that among a population of more than 303 million people this one, clearly flawed man is the only person who is qualified to be Secretary of the Treasury? This man who can't get his taxes right is the only person to put in charge of the IRS, the bailouts, and the printing presses at the US Treasury?

This kind of desire for a magic solution to all our problems is the same idolatry that made the Obamaniacs so nauseating. Our founders did not set up our system of government to depend on one man. As Thomas Jefferson wrote:

"It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights... Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism. Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence. It is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power... Our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no further, our confidence may go... In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."
--Thomas Jefferson: Draft Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. ME 17:388

Ours is a government of law, not of men.
Should we then give the power over our money, which was unconstitutionally given to the Secretary of the Treasury by our venal politicians last October, over to a man who violates that law? Who, at best, is a genius who cannot understand the portions of the law that he will be charged with enforcing by virtue of his position over the IRS? Should this man have the power to deprive citizens who violate the same code he did of their rights to liberty and property?

I cannot believe that this is practically a done deal.
We have been told today that although his tax code violations would have been a problem in more ordinary times, these extraordinary times make his lack of integrity unimportant.
What? Does this mean that since these times are so extraordinary, the law does not now apply? Isn't it precisely in extraordinary times that character and integrity become extraordinaryly important? In The Crisis, Thomas Paine wrote:

"THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value." (December, 1776).

Will a man who, when times were good, did not pay his taxes, and kept the money given to him by the IMF for that purpose, have the integrity to make lawful decisions about our money in these extraordinary times? I think his soul has been tried and found wanting.

We the People of the United States, deserve and should demand accountable leaders who have the courage of their convictions, and the integrity to uphold the Constitution. No one man is the solution to all of our problems. We make the solutions. And as for our leaders, we must "bind [them] down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution."

And we lack wisdom if we do not protest the placement of a man who has already done mischief with his own money in charge of the national purse.


Swylv said...

exactly an irresponsible man to usher in so called responsibility? I know I forgot to mail in my state tax payment last year and in december got a nasty letter saying I better pay and asap and oh yeah with a fee....seriously I just forgot to mail it...they didn't waive my fee...

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Swyly--It's great to find you again! In October, I lost my favorites list and have been reconstructing it from comments and then putting the list on a thumb drive.

Seriously. I am terrible with the details of money. I have made more errors than I care to confess, and that is why we have an accountant do the taxes. I let the Engineering Geek handle our day-to-day stuff. I am good with the big picture but am completely overwhelmed with the details. So I know how you feel . . . they never waive the fee. Or the penalties.

Anonymous said...

I love the fact that you and I have such different politics, yet I often agree with you. The tacit notion that there is a person or approach that will magically "fix" everything astonishes me. I didn't vote for Obama because I expected him to move into the White House and start turning water into wine. :-) I just made a decision based on my views and my understanding of the issues.

You wrote: "What concerns me the most, though, is not Geithner's lack of integrity ... What concerns me, is that our Senators and Representatives do not think it matters."

My thoughts exactly. I am not surprised that the people we cull for public service have baggage. What does surprise me is that no one even seems to think it matters. Not only do we *not* expect our leaders to be held accountable like the rest of us (if I didn't file taxes on our whopping $50,000 salary, the IRS would be right on it!) No one even seems to acknowledge that this is the way it's SUPPOSED to be.

It's a little bit like my feelings about the appointment of supreme court justices. I hate it everyone starts talking about litmus tests for views on abortion and such, because supreme court justices aren't there to have personal positions on these things; they're supposed to be impartial interpreters of the constitution. I accept the fact that it doesn't roll that way. But it scares the bejeezus out of me that no one seems to even acknowledge that this is how it SHOULD be.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Mama Monkey,

Yes, I expect people we consider for cabinet positions will have baggage--we all do--but I do worry when that baggage goes beyond mistakes and enters the realm of playing fast and loose with the law. Especially in an area that that very person is expected supervise. And as I said, and you said, what bothers me more is that the Obama Administration and the Congress (both parties) seem to ignore the issue, and treat themselves and other highly paid government officials as if they are above the law that the ordinary Joe must follow.
I think the statements coming out of Congress yesterday, as well as Obama's refusal to withdraw the nomination from Geithner, tell us that this is not a partisan problem. Our government is out of control!

Anonymous said...

You make an interesting argument especially when you invoke Hayek. Methinks, your issue might lie in the nature of government and perhaps even the composition of its executive and its most executive member. Hayek would think generally, and I am being a second hand doer here, that the government subsidy takes the money from one to give to another. This is slavery since its very definition lies in the notion of a right to the property of oneself and to appropriate this property for the benefit of another is by implication slavery.

In attacking this man's morality, and every american person has a right to find schemes to minimize taxes but not avoid them, you have reserved your heavy artillery for the wrong target. I think that perhaps your issue lies in your president's choice rather than the choices of your congress and the morality of this man which to me are both softer targets. Hayek was a brutally honest man. I think your discussion, wise as it is, sort of melts toward a notion that if I must be a slave, let it be to a better man.... I am undoubtedly wrong on this point but not on this other.... you write a good blog.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...


In this entry I am discussing my concern about Congress. The Chief Executive proposes who the Secretary of Treasury will be. He gives his reasons for nomination. But it is the Senate that confirms POTUS' choice. And it is they who in committee, and in the full Senate, excused his actions because he is a financial genius, and who is (according to them) the only man for the job.They, who supposedly represent us, did this in the face of determined opposition by a large number of their constituents.

Furthermore, Geithner was not merely trying to minimize his tax obligation by intelligent use of the tax code. He violated it, and he did it using a very clear obligation to pay social security and medicare. He also signed statements every quarter that he was receiving a check from the IMF that was for the purpose of paying his taxes, so he cannot claim that he did not know he was supposed to do so.

Finally, I believe that Social Security is a total Ponzi scheme, and that medicare is going to bankrupt this country. These programs, among others, make slaves of all of us. And I have said so in other places. They ought to be ended, and there have been sensible proposals to do so (See The Coming Generational Storm by Kotlikoff and Burns.

However, in this blog entry I was making the point that the Senate is saddling us with a cheat and a thief as our Secretary of the Treasury because, since he is a financial genius, they consider him to be above the law, unlike ordinary citizens (like Joe the Plumber?)who must pay those taxes or forfeit their liberty and property. This is pure idolatry.

So, no I do not want to be a slave to a good man rather than a bad one. And at the same time, I think that we come to the slave mentality by steps, one of which is to place certain people above the law due to some special characteristic, such as genius or race or disadvantage.
In Exodus, we are told, "You shall have one law for the homeborn and the stranger." Apparently, here there is a different law for the citizen than there is for the genius politician.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

P.S. Eveningson: This was a great comment and caused me to clarify my thinking. I like it! Please stop by again!