Monday, September 22, 2008

Let's Bailout Capitalism!

Over the weekend the treasury department put forth a bill now winding its way through the U.S. Congress that would allow the U.S. government to buy bad debt from several Wall Street firms in order to allow those Wall Street firms to continue to function. The number put out by the treasury department is "$700 billion". This is a huge sum the magnitude of which probably eludes most people.

$700 billion. That's $2,295 if every single American contributed. If $700 billion of debt was a GDP, it would be ranked 17th in the world behind the Netherlands and ahead of Turkey. We would need at least 12 Bill Gates's selling off their entire holdings to make it up. $700 billion is equivalent to 1,750 bridges to nowhere. If you laid 700 billion dollar bills end to end, the chain would stretch from the earth to the sun. On the plus side, it only adds 7% to our astronomically high national debt.

And this goliath of a sum of money is going from the taxpayers' pockets directly to the vaults of huge banks who are now seeing the downside of risky lending. In other words, not to the people who defaulted on mortgages and were foreclosed upon, but to banks which transfer more money every hour than you and I make in a lifetime and which practically define capitalism. I'm all for socialism of some things, but socialism of capitalism is a little too red for me. Our constitution guarantees lots of things to lots of individuals, but the right not to go bankrupt is not one of them. I mean, these banks took on these bad mortgage-backed securities knowing that they would be worthless unless enough homeowners were able to make payments: in other words, they took on risk, an essential part of capitalism.

Which brings up two good points from the NY Times:

"How is it that the administration and Congress, which have not tried to find huge amounts of money to, say, improve the nation’s health insurance system or repair bridges and tunnels, can now be ready to come up with $700 billion to rescue the financial system?"

Yeah! About health care: banks made poor decisions that could have been avoided. Lots (not all) of medical bills stem from conditions that cannot be avoided (breast cancer, lupus, fractured arm, sinus infections, autism, etc.). But we're supposed to pony up for banks and not for patients? And the other quote:

“Treasury’s 840-word legislative bailout proposal comes to more than $830 million per word,” Stephen Ellis, the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a fiscal watchdog group, said in a statement on Monday, adding that “when they come up with a title, that will drive the average dollar per word down.”

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