Are there really any public sector jobs much more exciting than being the Treasury Secretary? Other than chairman of the Federal Reserve, there's no near-equal in the U.S. And since current Fed Chair Ben Bernanke has a couple years left in his term, Geithner would likely have to look to global regulators to find something at his level.
Then, there's the midpoint between the public and private sectors: academia. He could easily slide into a teaching job if he wants to go that route. If no desirable high-level regulator job is open at the moment, a university could make for a nice, relaxing transition when in-between high-stress gigs.
But if Geithner wants to make money -- a lot of money -- then he should have ample opportunity to do so. It's hard to imagine that there's a big bank out there that wouldn't be psyched to provide a seven- or eight-figure salary for his knowledge and connections.
Really, Geithner should just get a job at Goldman Sachs. After all, everyone already thinks he's worked there, so he might as well actually do so and make the big bucks that the public has crucified him for having earned as a Goldman employee. It's sort of like the Ashley Judd movie Double Jeopardy. She already did the jail time for murdering her dirtbag husband, so she didn't feel so bad about actually killing him at the end.
Obama's Strategy in Choosing a New Treasury Secretary
If Geithner does leave, how should President Obama choose a replacement? Let's think about the situation here. It will be the fall of 2011, about a year before November 2012. It will be an election year, which means that neither Congress nor the president will plan to get all that much accomplished.
And once the debt ceiling issue has been resolved, there aren't any huge policy issues left for an Obama administration Treasury Secretary to worry about. A new deficit deal will presumably be in place, the administration's financial regulation effort will have taken effect, its mortgage modification program will be well-established, its housing finance policy proposal is already out there, and the prospect of additional stimulus getting through a divided Congress will be quite dim. The president's economic policy team will pretty much be in cruise control until the election.
For both of these reasons, the president's next pick doesn't much matter. If Obama wins in 2012, he could just appoint a new Treasury Secretary for his second term. So he can use the opportunity to appoint an interim pick for pure political gain. He just needs to decide what he wants to get out of it -- who does he want to appease?
If he wants a pick that would thrill his liberal base, then he could select a nominee very far to the left. Someone like Paul Krugman comes to mind. Although such a candidate won't likely get past the Senate, the Republicans might not allow any nominee to be confirmed anyway. So Obama wouldn't have to worry about any very controversial policies potentially pushed by an extremely progressive pick anyway.