Check out my latest big jam in the Prospect: “Globalizing Reform: America’s top financial diplomat works to save the world from our mistakes.”
I profiled a Treasury official named Lael Brainard, whose job as America’s top financial diplomat is, to put the point finely, a big fucking deal and involves a lot of high-stress negotiations with prickly foreign partners. While I’m not as happy with this feature as others I’ve written — it could use another rewrite, I think, and better attention to structure, a bit more reporting — there’s a lot to learn in there about international finance, what the Obama administration is trying to do in that arena, and a woman who’s succeeded in the largely male fraternity of international finance experts. Did I mention that she has a decent chance to be the next Secretary of the Treasury?
In a political climate where any government economic intervention, especially one that can be rightfully called a bailout, is toxic, this task gets even harder. Even as the Obama administration was aggressively lobbying the European Union to take action on Greece, congressional Republicans were supporting a resolution calling on the U.S. to block the effort. (While no U.S. funds are on the line, our investment in the IMF is at risk — although in its history, the IMF has never not repaid a loan.) Congress has a long tradition of looking askance at the executive’s rescue efforts, dating back to when Clinton’s Treasury secretary, Bob Rubin, tapped into an obscure fund to rescue Mexico in 1994. And after NAFTA, many in the Democratic base wonder who’s reaping the benefits of free trade.
Brainard, however, might be just the person to allay skepticism from progressives about the trade-related efforts of past Democratic administrations. As a young consultant at McKinsey & Company right out of college, she worked with a U.K. textile firm and an American automaker that was facing increased competition from other countries. The experience demonstrated how rosy predictions about free trade don’t always bear out in the real world. As she works with the U.S. trade representative, Ron Kirk, to achieve Obama’s goal of doubling exports in the next five years, she’ll have to keep in mind the challenges that U.S. firms will face — and the cautions expressed by members of Congress.
Read the whole thing. There are a lot of anecdotes that I had to leave out for space, including some rather compelling detail about her marriage, to Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, which seems like a model for two successful people balancing work and family. Maybe I’ll post some selections from the cutting room floor on that and other topics here in the near future.