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商业 - 金融

美国前财长蒂姆•盖特纳: 批准雷曼兄弟破产是一个局

Allan Sloan 2014年05月30日

蒂姆•盖特纳在自己的新书《压力测试》中披露,当时之所以没有向公众公布实情,部分原因是因为保尔森和伯南克认为,向公众坦承政府没有力量拯救雷曼兄弟会加剧灾难。

    如果你认为,金融和政府高层人士都无所不知,无所不能,你应当读一读蒂姆•盖特纳的新书《压力测试》(Stress Test)。你将看到,他和他接触的其他高层人士天资聪明,工作勤奋,但他们都是肉眼凡胎。他们做出了最大的努力,但很多情况下都搞得一团糟。

    这本书就像盖特纳本人一样(至少与我相处时)让人不设防,务实聪慧且待人非常谦逊。实际上,《压力测试》可能被称为《致命的弱点》(Feet of Clay)更合适。正如书名所讲, 即便是神也有致命的弱点。”你知道,他们一点都不完美。

    盖特纳在担任4年财政部长前曾担任过5年的纽约联邦储备银行(New York Fed)行长。权力很大,对吧? 但他依然记得那些2008年他努力避免金融灾难的那些不那么风光的时刻:

    我当时得了非常严重的毒葛皮炎。因此,有好几周,我工作的时候还得在腿上涂抹很多炉甘石液,还要用绷带包扎。有一次,我从办公室走到会议室时,我裤腿后拖着长长一条涂抹炉甘石液的绷带。”一长条浸满炉甘石液的绷带,而不是光彩照人的形象。

    盖特纳在书中一再描述自己因为回家晚了,或者因为全身心投入工作,或者因为错过了家里的大事,以及因为追随自己的雄心、导致全家人反反复复地跟着他东奔西走,结果一再惹恼妻子卡罗尔,让她失望、愤怒。这些都是现实生活,而不像科幻世界里那样,像盖特纳这样的人,(如果我们赞赏他们的所作所为),他们通常就会被看成神;(如我们不赞成他们)他们就会被当成魔鬼。

    我很高兴看到这样一个事实,这本书索引中他妻子卡罗尔•盖特纳出现的次数(31次)超过本•伯南克的次数(29次)。我认为,这表明盖特纳操心那些他真正应该关心的事,也就是他的妻子和孩子。(没错,拉里•萨默斯出现了37次,这位盖特纳的前老板兼导师后来成为了他的对手和竞争者。)但要注意,没有人是完美无缺的。)

    出现次数最多的是42次,是“雷曼兄弟(Lehman Brothers)倒闭”。而且,的确如此。因为,2008年9月雷曼的倒闭触发了一系列活动,几乎葬送了全球整个金融体系,需要世界各国政府和央行进行大规模干预。

    雷曼为什么被批准倒闭?

    下面是盖特纳的说法:

    我们但是无能为力,而不是无所畏惧。我们曾经努力过,但还是没能阻止灾难性的错误。这一点至今仍旧很难理解,部分原因是因为当时汉克(当时任财政部长的保尔森) 和本(伯南克)承担着吃力不讨好的任务,要向人们解释我们的行动。他们决定不向公众承认失败。那时候,他们认为承认我们没有力量拯救雷曼会加剧灾难,这么想或许是正确的。

    我们把他的说法与尼尔•埃尔文在他2013年出版的书《The Alchemists》中所描述的情形进行一下对比。当时在《华盛顿邮报》(Washington Post)、现在《纽约时报》(New York Times)任职的埃尔文写到,美联储(Fed)有意误导民众:

    If you think that people in the upper echelons of finance and government are all-knowing and all-powerful, you ought to read Tim Geithner's new book, Stress Test. You'll see that he and the other high-level types he deal with are smart and hardworking, but are distinctly mortal. They do the best they can, but screw up plenty of times.

    The book, like Geithner himself (at least in his dealings with me) is disarming, down to earth, witty, and self-effacing. In fact, Stress Test might more accurately be called Feet of Clay. As in, "Even the gods have feet of clay." You know, they aren't remotely perfect.

    Geithner was head of the New York Fed for five years before spending four years as Treasury secretary. A lot of power, right? But he remembers some less-than-godlike moments as he tried to avert financial calamity in 2008:

    I got a nasty case of poison ivy, so I worked for weeks with my legs slathered in Calamine lotion and wrapped in gauze. I once walked from my office to a conference room with a long train of Calamine-covered gauze trailing from my pant leg." Trailing gauze rather than glory, a hilarious image.

    There are repeated descriptions of how Geithner angered and disappointed his wife, Carole, when he would come home late, be preoccupied with work, miss important family events, and repeatedly uproot the family to follow his ambitions. That's real-world stuff, not the fantasy world in which people like Geithner are generally portrayed as either gods (if we approve of what they're doing) or devils (if we don't).

    I love the fact that the book's index has more entries for Carole Geithner (31) than for Ben Bernanke (29). To me, that's a sign that Geithner worries an awful lot about the right things: his wife and kids. (Okay, there are 37 entries for Larry Summers, formerly Geithner's boss and mentor, later his rival and competitor. But hey, no one's perfect.)

    The most entries of all -- 42 -- are for "Lehman Brothers, collapse of." And rightly so. Because Lehman's bankruptcy, in September of 2008, set off a series of events that almost capsized the world financial system and required massive intervention by the world's government's and central banks.

    Why was Lehman allowed to fail?

    Here's Geithner's version:

    We had been powerless, not fearless. We had tried but failed to prevent a catastrophic default. That's still poorly understood, in part because Hank [Paulson, then Secretary of the Treasury] and Ben [Bernanke], who had the thankless job of explaining our actions, decided not to admit defeat in public. They thought at the time that confessing we didn't have the firepower to save Lehman would intensify the panic, which may have been right.

    Compare that with the account by Neil Irwin in his 2013 book, The Alchemists. Irwin, then at theWashington Post, currently at the New York Times, wrote that the Fed misled people intentionally:

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