Who will be the next Treasury secretary?

By Felix Salmon
May 23, 2012
Glenn Somerville has one of the first of what will surely be many articles handicapping possible Treasury secretaries come January.

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Glenn Somerville has one of the first of what will surely be many articles handicapping possible Treasury secretaries come January. We know we’re going to get a new one, whatever happens — Geithner won’t stay on for a second term.

Top of the list if Obama gets re-elected is Larry Fink, of Blackrock — he wants the job, and he has a pretty solid reputation in finance circles. I think the problem with Fink, though, is that the country has had enough of financiers at Treasury. I suspect that Obama will want Geithner’s successor to be a communicator — someone who can get through not only to the country at large (something Geithner’s never been good at) but also to Congress. And Fink is no man of the people.

It almost goes without saying that Jamie Dimon neither wants the job nor would ever be offered it, at this point.

The other main name on the Democratic side of things is Erskine Bowles — also a financier, albeit one with rather more Washington experience than Fink has. Bowles would represent a continuation of Obama’s first-term habit of appointing former Clinton aides to top economic-policy jobs; that would disappoint many progressives, who are looking for more of a break from the deregulatory past.

Dan Tarullo, another name mooted, is being presented as Bowles lite: the same combination of finance and Clinton-era politicking, without quite the same degree of stature. Tarullo would certainly be tough on banks, but frankly if that’s his aim he’s better off staying where he is, at the Fed, which is also the top bank regulator. Roger Altman, yet another Clinton aide who’s made a fortune in investment banking, would be a more interesting choice, but I for one would really love the idea of a Treasury secretary who doesn’t come from Wall Street.

There are four names put forward on the Republican side: John Taylor, Glenn Hubbard, Robert Zoellick, and Kevin Warsh. The first two, I think, would be dreadful: you really don’t want your Treasury to be a political hack. Zoellick and Warsh would be much more credible.

But most likely, if Romney gets elected, he’ll pick someone unexpected — someone he knows well from his Bain Capital days, and feels he can trust.

In any case, since we’re throwing names out there, let me put forward two ideas of my own. First, for Romney: Randy Quarles. He’s almost a mini-Romney: a Mormon private-equity executive who has a fair amount of experience in government. The two would almost certainly work very well together.

And second, for Obama: Eric Schmidt, who needs something to do, now that he doesn’t have a day job any more, and who has been very active in Democratic fundraising circles. And who would certainly be a welcome change from the technocrats and financiers we’ve become accustomed to. If you’re going to appoint a billionaire to the job, better it’s someone who made his money from Google than someone who made his fortune by making bets with other people’s money.

Update: Annie Lowrey, quite rightly, adds Jack Lew to the list. Who has a very good chance of getting the job, if only because he’s already passed a confirmation hearing and therefore wouldn’t present the administration with an early nomination battle. Also, I forgot to mention my favorite dark horse, if Obama’s re-elected: Barney Frank!

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