Bailouts and Justice


Daniel Gross interviews Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who complains that raging populism has made his job harder:

So you don’t think the bailouts were too friendly to Wall Street?
The idea that the strategy was unfair and has principally benefited a small number of institutions in New York is a mischaracterization of the design and result of the strategy. I thought people would have understood this after the failure of Lehman Brothers. But when you do too little and you leave the system with real fear that everything is going to fall apart, like any financial crisis, it hurts the poorest most. A just and fair strategy, even if it is politically hardest to explain and justify, is to use well-designed but massive force to stabilize the system.

You know, Geithner really didn’t have to go that far.  It’s one thing to defend the bailout as an ugly but necessary response to a crisis, but it’s quite another to call it a “just and fair strategy.”  Basically, the banking system held a gun to our collective heads and forced us to transfer a huge amount of wealth to them, and has spent the entire time since then working feverishly to make sure they pay no price for this and are in no way prevented from ever doing it again. Maybe we didn’t have a choice, but there was nothing just about it. I wish Geithner could at least acknowledge that much.

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