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Archive for October 26th, 2010

I’m an economist, so I should probably be most agitated about the economic consequences of TARP, such as moral hazard and capital malinvestment. But when I read stories about how political insiders (both in government and on Wall Street) manipulate the system for personal advantage, I want to go postal.

Yes, TARP was economically misguided. But the bailout also was fundamentally corrupt (as are so many things when government gets too big). And it was a form of corruption that lined the pockets of the ruling class. I don’t like it when lower-income people use the political system to take money from upper-income people, but I get completely nauseated/angry/disgusted when upper-income people use the coercive power of government to steal money from lower-income people.

Now, to add insult to injury, we’re being fed an unsavory gruel of lies and deception as the political class tries to cover up its sleazy behavior. Here’s a story from Bloomberg about the Treasury Department’s refusal to obey the law and comply with a FOIA request. A Bloomberg reporter wanted to know about an insider deal to put taxpayers on the line to guarantee a bunch of Citigroup-held securities, but the government thinks that people don’t have a right to know how their money is being funneled to politically-powerful and well-connected insiders.

The late Bloomberg News reporter Mark Pittman asked the U.S. Treasury in January 2009 to identify $301 billion of securities owned by Citigroup Inc. that the government had agreed to guarantee. He made the request on the grounds that taxpayers ought to know how their money was being used. More than 20 months later, after saying at least five times that a response was imminent, Treasury officials responded with 560 pages of printed-out e-mails — none of which Pittman requested. They were so heavily redacted that most of what’s left are everyday messages such as “Did you just try to call me?” and “Monday will be a busy day!” None of the documents answers Pittman’s request for “records sufficient to show the names of the relevant securities” or the dates and terms of the guarantees.

Here’s another reprehensible example of sleazy behavior. The Treasury Department, for all intents and purposes, lied when it recently claimed that the AIG bailout would cost “only” $5 billion. This has triggered some pushback from Capitol Hill GOPers, as reported by the New York Times, but it is highly unlikely that anyone will suffer any consequences for this deception. To paraphrase Glenn Reynolds, “laws, honesty, and integrity, like taxes, are for the little people.”

The United States Treasury concealed $40 billion in likely taxpayer losses on the bailout of the American International Group earlier this month, when it abandoned its usual method for valuing investments, according to a report by the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. …“The American people have a right for full and complete disclosure about their investment in A.I.G.,” Mr. Barofsky said, “and the U.S. government has an obligation, when they’re describing potential losses, to give complete information.” …“If a private company filed information with the government that was just as misleading and disingenuous as what Treasury has done here, you’d better believe there would be calls for an investigation from the S.E.C. and others,” said Representative Darrell Issa, the senior Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He called the Treasury’s October report on A.I.G. “blatant manipulation.” Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, said he thought “administration officials are trying so hard to put a positive spin on program losses that they played fast and loose with the numbers.” He said it reminded him of “misleading” claims that General Motors had paid back its rescue loans with interest ahead of schedule.

 P.S. Allow me to preempt some emails from people who will argue that TARP was a necessary evil. Even for those who think the financial system had to be recapitalized, there was no need to bail out specific companies. The government could have taken the approach used during the S&L bailout about 20 years ago, which was to shut down the insolvent institutions. Depositors were bailed out, often by using taxpayer money to bribe a solvent institution to take over the failed savings & loan, but management and shareholders were wiped out, thus  preventing at least one form of moral hazard.

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This entry was submitted by email. While several of the posted comments made me chuckle, this one earned a laugh. And the person (who wishes to remain anonymous) clearly put in a bit of effort.

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I’m not sure what to make of the Stewart/Colbert rally this weekend, but one of the sideshow events that definitely cries out for some verbal abuse is the “Government Doesn’t Suck” march that has been organized by overpaid federal bureaucrats. I wonder what signs they’ll carry? Perhaps “Lazy People Have Rights!”? Or how about, “We Deserve Twice the Income of People Who Actually Produce”? I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if this event fizzles out because the bureaucrats are all on break.

Here’s a blurb from the Washington Post about the planned march. The last sentence is really disgusting. These needless parasites actually seem to believe that they’re the ones “keeping the country running.”

Amid growing dissatisfaction with federal employees, a group of younger, web-savvy feds are planning to march on Saturday in defense of their coworkers… Organizers of the “Government Doesn’t Suck March” (their choice of words, not ours) were inspired in part by last week’s Washington Post poll that revealed widespread negative perceptions of federal workers. “We hear it day in and day out: the government sucks, federal employees are lazy and their positions are redundant,” said march organizer Steve Ressler, founder of GovLoop, a social networking Web site for public servants. “It’s time to turn the tables and remind the world that government employees just happen to be people — people that don’t suck,” Ressler said in a message sent to The Federal Eye on Sunday announcing the march. Government workers “are a lot of cool cats” who work hard, listen to good music and watch Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” “but that’s all after they’ve spent a whole day keeping the country running,” he said.

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