Unemployed Treasury secretaries generally don't stay unemployed for long, but unlike some of his predecessors, newly private citizen Tim Geithner won't be going for the big bucks right away. Geithner announced today that his first job out of Washington will be at the Council on Foreign Relations as a distinguished fellow. It's a role he's held before and one with a high enough profile and fancy enough connections that he should continue to a play role in economic debates of the future.
Geithner also announced some news that will make economic wonks very happy. He's writing a book about the global financial crisis and the role he played shaping the response of the Federal Reserve and later the Treasury Department. It promises to be a very inside account of the very dramatic days of the 2008 crisis and the first term of the Obama administration, including insight on how some of the most important government decisions of the last decade came to pass. At the very least it spawned a Twitter hashtag to keep economic nerds busy for a couple of hours.
What Geithner won't be doing, though he easily could, is take a cushy corner-office job at a Wall Street bank or a board-member seat for some massive Fortune 500 company. That's the route a few of his predecessor have taken — and it can be very, very lucrative.
One of Bill Clinton's secretaries, Robert Rubin, spent his pre-government career at the banking giant Goldman Sachs, then left Washington to join CitiGroup, where he pulled in another $126 million or so in compensation along way. John Snow, George W. Bush's second Treasury Secretary, became Chairman of Cerberus Capital Management, one of the most successful private equity firms in the world. The truth is that these guys were actually rich before they ever took the helm of the Treasury Department.
John Henry Paulson, the man Geithner succeeded, didn't go back to Wall Street, but that's probably because he'll never need to work again a day in his life. He came to the job as the ex-Chairman of Goldman Sachs, a move that "forced" him to sell about $500 million worth of stock and made him the richest Treasury Secretary in history.
No one would have faulted Geithner for going that route, mostly because many mistakenly believe that's where he came from (or was secretly working for them all along.) But other then a previous brief stint at CFR and two years working for the International Monetary Fund, he's spent nearly his entire career at the Treasury Department or the Federal Reserve, never working for a private bank or a corporation. Still, he's not exactly hurting for money, and the advance on his book is sure to be a comfortable sum, though it's clear Geithner is an academic at heart.
Geithner's also not interested in sullying his reputation with a quick cash-in — at least not yet. He might some day go for the big bucks in lobbying or corporate management, but for now the lecture circuit and the occasional free dinner will suit him just fine.