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Give Geithner a Break

I don’t think he did well yesterday. I don’t know that he’s the right guy for the job. But what I do know is the following:

1. Nobody, absolutely nobody, has more incentive to get this right than the Obama Administration. If the economy collapses — well, more than it already has collapsed — then the Democrats get slaughtered in 2010, Obama is a one-termer, health care doesn’t happen, the poverty rate increases by a couple orders of magnitude, and the imperative to fix the environment gets put on the backburner. To suggest that Obama or Geithner are tools of Wall Street and are looking out for something other than the country’s best interest is freaking asinine. Maybe their ideas are wrong — but their hearts are in the right place.

2. If the banks fail, then rich people lose a lot of money, and poor people lose a lot of jobs (and also much of what money they have). But I swear to God, there’s a lunatic fringe out there that would take this trade and call it “progress”.

2a. At the end of the day, a great deal of the debate between liberals and conservatives is about how to apportion wealth. It seems so banal to talk about it that way, and so we put all sorts of window dressing on it, but that’s really what it’s all about. But on this issue of the banking crisis — and to a lesser extent this was true of the stimulus — there is a much larger delta on the aggregate amount of wealth that the United States stands to gain (or lose) than on how that wealth is distributed. Over the next 6-18 months, the outcomes for everyone from the top of the economic ladder to the bottom rung are very strongly correlated.

3. I’m sorry, but somewhere between 99.9% and 99.999999% of us are severely underqualified to be making policy recommendations on this particular issue. And I’m certainly in the majority on this one. My anecdotal experience for the past several months has been that the more someone knows about the economy, the more they know (or at least are willing to admit to) what they don’t know. Anyone who is professing with certainty that this or that will work — nationalizing the banks, for instance — is an idiot.

4. So if I’m telling you to lay off the ideological smelling salts (not that you will) and that your ideas on policy are probably not contributing very much to the discussion (don’t worry — neither are mine) then what, exactly, do I want you to do?

What I’m asking you to do is to clear the playing field. This is neither the time nor the place for mass movements — this is the time for expert opinion. Once the experts (and I’m not one of them) have reached some kind of a consensus about what the best course of action is (and they haven’t yet), then figure out who is impeding that action for political or other disingenuous reasons and tackle them — do whatever you can to remove them from the playing field. But we’re not at that stage yet.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.