How can we break the grip Wall Street has on the Treasury? Huffington Post’s Dan Froomkin argues the surest way to make sure the next Secretary of the Treasury isn’t beholden to Wall Street is to appoint a woman. And he’s right.
Froomkin notes that the several female candidates in the running to take over for current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner including Christina Romer who served as chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the first two years of the Obama administration and Laura D’Andrea Tyson, a top economic adviser in the Clinton administration, share a healthy skepticism of the boys club of high finance and Wall Street. And since finance and Wall Street is by and large male-dominated, this skepticism is understandable. “Traditionally, finance has been a boys club and traditionally, Treasury secretaries have come out of the financial sector,” said Linda Bilmes, who teaches public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School told the Huffington Post. “What we’ve had in Treasury for the large part is people who have been molded by Wall Street, and whose thinking is etched into certain Wall Street type patterns.”
But with Wall Street greed having “brought the country to the brink of another depression,” she said, it’s time for a Treasury secretary who has more independence. “I don’t think the point is having a woman just for the sake of having a woman,” she said. “I think that the more important priority is to have a Treasury secretary who is a broad thinker, who is not completely tied to the Wall Street financial sector.”
Thanks to the widespread and pervasive discrimination against women in finance, that makes any woman candidate an outsider to start. Putting a woman in as Treasury Secretary would immediately change how people see women, particularly in finance. In some ways, we can’t expect the male-dominated nature of Wall Street culture to change until that vision of leadership changes first. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation that the right appointment in President Obama’s second term could change.
And it wouldn’t just impact the way Wall Street looks at leadership. There is a growing body of evidence that men and women govern differently. As Froomkin reports, Ann Mari May, a University of Nebraska economist, recently co-directed a study comparing male and female economists. “We found that economists do have gender differences in their policy perspectives,” she said. Specifically, female economists tend to favor a bigger role for government while male economists have greater faith in business and the marketplace. She also cited anecdotal evidence that as women move into finance they can bring about different and better policy outcomes.
Another academic, Barbara Bergmann, who formerly taught economics at American University and the University of Maryland, said that women are “more conscious of the needs of people who are going to be hurt by not having the right policies in place…It might take testosterone to make these very chancy bets that may or may not pay off, but what you need in the Cabinet are people who will be for sensible policy,” she said to Huffington Post.
There are no shortage of qualified female candidates lined up to replace Tim Geithner, and it’s long past time to shake up the old boys club on Wall Street. Not only would a woman leading the Treasury help make that happen it could spark an entire generation of women to enter into banking and finance. And who knows what kind of change that could bring.
Photo from World Economic Forum via flickr.