6 Ways the Financial Bailout Scams Taxpayers, Subsidizes Wall Street, and Props Up Our Broken Financial System
Continued from previous page
Under Treasury Secretary Geithner, the Treasury Department has greatly expanded the financial bailout to troubling new programs like the Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP) and the Term Asset-Backed-Securities Loan Facility (TALF). The PPIP, for example, encourages private investors to buy "toxic" or risky assets on the books of struggling banks. Doing so, we're told, will get banks lending again because the burdensome assets won't weigh them down. Unfortunately, the incentives the Treasury Department is offering to get private investors to participate are so generous that the government -- and, by extension, American taxpayers -- are left with all the downside.
Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-prize winning economist, described the PPIP program in a New York Times op-ed this way:
"Consider an asset that has a 50-50 chance of being worth either zero or $200 in a year's time. The average 'value' of the asset is $100. Ignoring interest, this is what the asset would sell for in a competitive market. It is what the asset is 'worth.' Under the plan by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the government would provide about 92 percent of the money to buy the asset but would stand to receive only 50 percent of any gains, and would absorb almost all of the losses. Some partnership!
"Assume that one of the public-private partnerships the Treasury has promised to create is willing to pay $150 for the asset. That's 50 percent more than its true value, and the bank is more than happy to sell. So the private partner puts up $12, and the government supplies the rest -- $12 in 'equity' plus $126 in the form of a guaranteed loan.
"If, in a year's time, it turns out that the true value of the asset is zero, the private partner loses the $12, and the government loses $138. If the true value is $200, the government and the private partner split the $74 that's left over after paying back the $126 loan. In that rosy scenario, the private partner more than triples his $12 investment. But the taxpayer, having risked $138, gains a mere $37."
Worse still, the PPIP can be easily manipulated for private gain. As economist Jeffrey Sachs has described it, a bank with worthless toxic assets on its books could actually set up its own public-private fund to bid on those assets. Since no true bidder would pay for a worthless asset, the bank's public-private fund would win the bid, essentially using government money for the purchase. All the public-private fund would then have to do is quietly declare bankruptcy and disappear, leaving the bank to make off with the government money it received. With the PPIP deals set to begin in the coming months, time will tell whether private investors actually take advantage of the program's flaws in this fashion.
The Treasury Department's TALF program offers equally enticing possibilities for potential bailout profiteers, providing investors with a chance to double, triple, or even quadruple their investments. And like the PPIP, if the deal goes bad, taxpayers absorb most of the losses. "It beats any financing that the private sector could ever come up with," a Wall Street trader commented in a recent Fortune magazine story. "I almost want to say it is irresponsible."
4. The government has no coherent plan for returning failing financial institutions to profitability and maximizing returns on taxpayers' investments.
Compare the treatment of the auto industry and the financial sector, and a troubling double standard emerges: As a condition for taking bailout aid, the government required Chrysler and General Motors to present detailed plans on how the companies would return to profitability. Yet the Treasury Department attached minimal conditions to the billions injected into the largest bailed-out financial institutions. Moreover, neither Geithner nor Lawrence Summers, one of President Barack Obama's top economic advisors, nor the president himself has articulated any substantive plan or vision for how the bailout will help these institutions recover and, hopefully, maximize taxpayers' investment returns.