It seems the bailouts taxpayers ponied up to save the financial system are going to cost a lot less than we thought.
All told, the cumulative bailout tab should come in at $89 billion, according to the Treasury. This includes everything from TARP (the $700 billion bank bailout), injections into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Federal Housing Administration loan guarantees, and the Federal Reserve buying up wads of debt to prop up credit markets.
The new estimate is down from estimates of more than $250 billion just a year ago. Some are even speculating TARP itself will turn a net profit. Others are really sticking their necks out, suggesting AIG
Great news for taxpayers? Yes and no. There's a very real cost these repayments don't reflect.
The big six banks, JPMorgan Chase
Don't get me wrong. This is a big plus for short-term deficits and fairness for taxpayers. But it also reinstates a lot of the power and influence these banks enjoyed before they became wards of the state. And this is happening at the worst time: as we begin crafting a financial reform package.
We need an ideal amount of outrage if we expect financial reform to have any teeth. That's when you get stuff done; when it's obvious to everyone that the old system needs to be changed in a big way. That's not to say we should regulate out of anger, but you want everyone to vividly remember how wretched the fall of 2008 was.
But with the bailouts looking better by the day, it's becoming easier to downplay their importance as not that big a deal. It's becoming easier for banks to say, "Look, we repaid you, now back off." And some, especially regulators, might listen.
It may be a stretch to say taxpayers should actually want these programs to cost more money. But if the success of the bailout comes at the cost of a spineless regulatory overhaul, the real cost will come years down the road, when we're faced with another financial crisis, perhaps costlier than this one. (These things happen every five to 10 years, according to JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon). That's the cost of moral hazard, I suppose.