Magazine article The New Yorker

Birds and Bankers

Magazine article The New Yorker

Birds and Bankers

Article excerpt

The other day, with the now homeless Occupiers still flooding the streets downtown, railing about bailed-out bankers, Henry Paulson, the former Treasury Secretary, Goldman Sachs C.E.O., and bailout architect, was uptown, taking a nature walk in Central Park. It was a drizzly day, and Paulson showed up at the Boathouse wearing a baggy suit and carrying a London Fog rain jacket. In person, he seems less like the "Superman" villain Lex Luthor, whom his grandchildren thinks he resembles, or William Hurt, who played him in "Too Big to Fail," and more like a park ranger, full of jerky energy.

"My wife's jealous," Paulson said, of his walk in the Park. (His wife, Wendy, is a naturalist who led bird walks there when the couple lived nearby.) Spotting a logbook where visitors record bird sightings, he flipped through until he came to a good entry. "See, this is someone who knew what they were doing," he said and read off the species: "Everything from a house finch to a tufted titmouse and an Eastern towhee."

Paulson now lives in Chicago, where he runs the Paulson Institute, which focusses on U.S.-China relations. He'd been in town that week "to see Mike Bloomberg" (board meeting for Bloomberg's charity) and to discuss the Latin America Conservation Council, a gathering of business leaders (Caterpillar, PepsiCo) whom Paulson had wrangled, along with Mark Tercek, his former Goldman protege and the head of the Nature Conservancy.

Tercek, a tall man with dark hair and a kindergarten teacher's demeanor, arrived at the Boathouse, too, along with E. J. McAdams, a Conservancy employee, and the three of them headed off for the Ramble. As they walked, they spouted facts about Latin America's watersheds and rain forests. Paulson: "The Amazon dumps enough fresh water in the ocean every hour to fill one Lake Superior." There weren't many birds out, but the woods brought on ornithological flashbacks. Stopping near a small glade, Paulson recalled, "We were not far from here. There was a little ovenbird. A Cooper's hawk came in right above. And the little bird froze for a while, froze and froze, and pretty soon--boom!" He was asked if there was a financial metaphor in this, and he joked, "I think of that bird as an innocent little banker. No, I don't."

Paulson is careful about making public pronouncements, given the lingering controversy over the bailout and the still vexing questions about Washington's ties to Wall Street. …

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