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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

June 9, 2009 at 10:40 AM

Why the bank bailout repayment leaves a bad taste

Top of the News: If word that 10 large banks will begin repaying bailout money to the Treasury doesn’t leave you in a celebratory mood, you’re not alone. This is more about the big bankers wanting their freedom than the soundness of the financial system or the health of the economy.

Initial reports say the institutions will repay $68 billion. Some $200 billion was paid out to 500 banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. The big banks want free of federal restrictions on executive compensation, dividends, etc. And their lobbyists have successfully blocked regulation of derivatives — the swindles that helped cause this worst downturn since the Great Depression — and water down other regulations.

So there’s a strong sense that the banks that were at the heart of the disaster want to get back to business as usual as soon as possible. They remain “too big to fail.” Profits were privatized and losses socialized. Many may still be close to insolvency, but we won’t know.

The secrecy surrounding the bailout has been among its most troubling aspects. Even today, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner declined to list the 10 institutions repaying the government, leaving it up to them to tell…or not. The government made $12.7 trillion — yes, with a “T” — in guarantees and lending facilities to the financial sector during the worst of the crisis.

But we the people don’t know the details, the beneficiaries, the backscratching potential between Wall Street and Washington, the ongoing obligation of taxpayers. The systemic risks inherent in such large institutions and their financial Frankensteins remain. Small businesses still complain of lack of credit, whatever “creative financial innovations” they’re cooking up in New York.

To paraphrase the economist W.C. Fields, “Here’s $68 billion, go away son, you bother me…”

Today’s Econ Haiku:

AT&T’s chief

Will become GM chairman

Phones, cars, whatever

Comments | More in Bailout, Banking

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