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Banking

Hank Paulson: The last master of the universe

Hank Paulson’s desperate attempts to keep the world financial system afloat show that, despite his many qualities, he is the wrong man for the job. Clive Horwood and Peter Lee report.

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WHEN HANK PAULSON stood on the lawn of the White House on September 29, just hours after the US House of Representatives had failed to pass his proposal to rescue the US banking system, it was almost too painful to watch.

Here was one of the former titans of Wall Street, the most powerful man in international finance, at his wit’s end: drawn, haggard, desperate – seemingly almost on the point of collapse, just like the global economy he was trying to save.

Less than 24 hours earlier, the deep bags under his eyes telling of days huddled in Washington meeting rooms steeped in history, he had thought that the pleading, the plea-bargaining and the planning had been worthwhile. Congressional leaders had agreed to his plan, albeit having extracted numerous caveats. The worst, surely, was over.

Now, in the Rose Garden, he was still fighting, but was diminished. How could he not be? A lame-duck president with no authority over his own party, let alone the country, had just offered a few glib words from the Oval office about the need for action. We’d heard it all before, in many different contexts.

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