A few days ago, President Obama selected Michael S. Barr, a law professor at Michigan, to serve as Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions. It’s an excellent choice.
I’ve known Mike for more than 20 years now, although I have not been in touch with him for a long time. He’s devoted most of his life to trying to figure out how to use financial institutions to bring more capital into low-income areas (and as a Michigan professor, he’s got a good laboratory about 45 minutes away). Like most of the Obamanots, he has worked at the Center for American Progress, but he’s far from a standard Washington Consensus guy: he should be a strong voice at Treasury for keeping in mind the needs and interests of poor and working people, but his Washington background will also help in keeping him relevant.
Along with appointment of Neal Wolin as Deputy Treasury Secretary, it seems as if lawyers are coming in to join the economists/finance guys/Masters of the Universe in the Department. That’s a good sign, as far as I’m concerned: while I’ll be the first to criticize lawyers and hardly believe that they/we have a monopoly on wisdom, lawyers generally do not become as infatuated with their models as do economists.
Rachel Maddow has highlighted Wolin’s role in the drafting of the repeal of Glass-Steagall, but without more information, that seems to me to be a cheap shot: when you’re the General Counsel of the Department, and there is a new bill, then you work on drafting it. Wolin may not have opposed the bill, and may even have supported it, but unless we know more, it’s hard to criticize him for doing his job. I recall Wolin’s tenure as being focused more on aggressively advocating for the authority of the ATF, then under Treasury. Let’s see how it develops, but I’d rather have Wolin than a lot of the young geniuses from Wall Street who got us into this mess.
Of course, I’d rather have Elizabeth Warren than any of them, but she obviously has offended Larry Summers by being, you know, right about things.