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Daily Journal

More Stats On Bailout Nation

May. 12th, 2009
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RALEIGH – If you are looking for some light reading or humor to “start your day right,” you may find today’s column disappointing.

I’ve just been perusing a Christian Science Monitor report on the projected price tag for Bailout Nation, and feel the need to pass along the thrust of it to you. It’s a sobering piece of explanatory journalism.

First, I like the Monitor’s simple way of summarizing all of the bailout/stimulus activity to date:

The federal government has allocated more than $11 trillion to fight the recession and financial crisis – an amount that approaches one year's output of goods and services in America. But much of that money is the potential size of rescue programs, not their actual scale (now about $3 trillion).

How does that sum (actually, about $3.2 trillion) break out? Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the major categories:

$1 trillion in government loans. This includes programs such as the Federal Reserve’s bailout of the commercial paper market ($250 billion and counting) and securitized lending to consumers and business ($290 billion and counting).

$973 billion in government equity investment. This includes the Treasury Department buying equity in banks ($200 billion and counting) and the Fed’s purchase of mortgage-backed securities ($290 billion and counting).

$955 billion in government spending or tax cuts. This includes President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package and former President Bush’s $168 billion’s stimulus.

$269 billion in government insurance. This currently consists of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program, which insures new debt issuances by banks. But there’s plenty of other insurance capacity approved but not yet used by government agencies.

The $3.2 trillion in current commitments is bad enough. But the potential of a $11 trillion price tag for Bailout Nation just boggles the mind. It represents a vast, dangerous expansion of governmental power and political interference in all major areas of the American economy. To call the whole endeavor the second New Deal is to understate how sweeping and radical it is. The line between what is public and what is private won’t just be eroded. It will be bulldozed out of existence.

We already have the spectacle of the federal government attempting to dictate what cars will be manufactured, what loan terms will be offered, and what investment portfolios banks will be allowed to maintain – even though the current crisis was itself the result of government manipulation of lending standards, financial markets, and the money supply.

Bailout Nation is a bipartisan creation. Its flaws do not derive from the character of the individuals currently in charge of the Fed, the Treasury, and FDIC, and the rest of the administration. Its flaws are inherent. They stem from the fundamental, mistaken notion that central planners will ever have the requisite knowledge and wisdom to engineer superior economic and social outcomes.

It’s been tried. It was the standard operating procedure of Italy circa 1930, Bulgaria circa 1950, France circa 1970, and Japan circa 1990, among many others. The results were disappointing, to put it mildly.

Here we go, again.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation