Naomi Klein hits the nail squarely on the head: the Bush gang is looting the US treasury on their way out of power, and we are helping them do it.
The banks are free to spend the new money as they wish. At Morgan Stanley, it looks like much of the windfall will cover this year’s bonus pool. Citigroup has been hinting it will use its newfound $25 billion buying other banks, while John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch, told analysts that “At least for the next quarter, it’s just going to be a cushion.” The U.S. government, meanwhile, is reduced to pleading with the banks that they at least spend a portion of the taxpayer windfall for loans – officially, the reason for the entire program.
Instead, what the government is doing is sending a signal that they will not let the banks fail. They call this “increasing market confidence”. But by taking all the risk away from the banks, they are pretty much guaranteeing that the banks will do even stupider things in the future:
Interestingly, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both enjoyed this kind of unspoken guarantee before the mortgage giants were nationalized at the start of this crisis. For decades the market understood that, since these private players were enmeshed with the government, Uncle Sam could be counted on to always save the day. It was, as many have pointed out, the worst of all worlds. Not only were profits privatized while risks were socialized but the implicit government backing created powerful incentives for reckless business practices.
One thing Klein doesn’t discuss is that the banks are also free to spend this money for nefarious purposes, like lobbying the government or even pumping money into the campaigns of the politicians who are looting the treasury on their behalf.