Staffing Up Treasury: What Price Elizabeth Warren?

Why has no one mentioned the most obvious person to fill a high position at Treasury?

Now that yet another Obama appointee to Treasury has withdrawn, maybe it will dawn on someone in the Administration to turn to the person who understands TARP, the AIG bailout, and the workings of the domestic economy as well as anyone: Harvard Law Professor and TARP Oversight Board Chair Elizabeth Warren.

It’s surprising — and not a little nauseating — that no one seems to have raised Warren’s name for filling a slot like Undersecretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance or even Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. There are two possible reasons for the omission, either of which should make us very suspicious of Larry Summers’ and Tim Geithner’s agendas:

1) Warren has been a persistent critic of Treasury’s handling of the financial crisis and has demanded more transparency in the process. Can’t have one of them on the inside, right?

2) More generally, Warren isn’t part of the Wall Street club. She’s not an economist, and thus, even though the economics and finance professions have consistently shown themselves to be at least overrated and at most the equivalents of medieval shamans, she isn’t taken seriously by the numbers crowd. I helped plan a conference on the mortgage meltdown a few months ago, and suggested her name as a participant: the economists had never heard of her and pretty much dismissed the idea.

No, it’s not because she’s a woman: Obama has already tried that, and as I have argued before, Summers has his severe faults, but sexism is not one of them.

Could she be confirmed? Well, she already has been appointed by Congress.

A few days before the Nazi invasion of Poland, when everyone knew war was coming and Neville Chamberlain still refused to put Churchill in the Cabinet, an anonymous observer paid for an enormous sign in Piccadilly Circus. The sign read simply: WHAT PRICE CHURCHILL?

I have been asking the question regarding Joseph Stiglitz for a while. We might ask the same about Elizabeth Warren now.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.