The Great 2008 Bank Bailout: One damn lie after another

When the great financial bailout of 2008 was rushed through with almost no discussion, I said in a series of six posts that it looked like a massive swindle perpetrated on ordinary taxpayers to benefit the wealthy and the financial sector and that we should vigorously oppose it. As I said in the first post in that series:

The public and the Congress are being stampeded with ‘the sky is falling’ rhetoric into giving the Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson a blank check, with no oversight and almost no reforms, to dole out money to his cronies in the financial sector so that they can continue the reckless practices that have led to the present situation. We should not forget that Paulson spent almost his entire career (over three decades) at Goldman Sachs, one of the investment banks at the center of the current mess.

The Paulson plan is a bad plan and should be opposed. Paulson, Bernanke, and Bush are saying that the necessary reforms and oversight can be added later after the crisis has passed, but only a sucker would accept that deal. Once the administration and the Wall Street firms get their hands on the money, you can be sure that they will fight any reforms tooth and nail. It is only now, when they are over a barrel and desperately seeking relief, that Congress has any leverage at all to get the needed reforms enacted.

But of course the oligarchy got what it wanted. Matt Taibbi has now written a long article in Rolling Stone looking back at what we were told then to justify the bailout and what actually happened subsequently and confirms what we suspected: that we were deliberately lied to on a massive scale in order to steamroll taxpayers into accepting a rotten deal. He says that the lies that were told to us by the government and the heads of the major financial institutions can be classified under five headings.

1. They lied to pass the bailout
2. They lied about lending
3. They lied about the health of the banks
4. They lied about bonuses
5. They lied about the bailout being temporary

Here are some quotes from his piece:

It was all a lie – one of the biggest and most elaborate falsehoods ever sold to the American people. We were told that the taxpayer was stepping in – only temporarily, mind you – to prop up the economy and save the world from financial catastrophe. What we actually ended up doing was the exact opposite: committing American taxpayers to permanent, blind support of an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash, and forces Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to increase risk rather than reduce it. The result is one of those deals where one wrong decision early on blossoms into a lush nightmare of unintended consequences. We thought we were just letting a friend crash at the house for a few days; we ended up with a family of hillbillies who moved in forever, sleeping nine to a bed and building a meth lab on the front lawn.

The failure of HAMP [the Home Affordable Mortgage Program] underscores another damning truth – that the Bush-Obama bailout was as purely bipartisan a program as we’ve had. Imagine Obama retaining Don Rumsfeld as defense secretary and still digging for WMDs in the Iraqi desert four years after his election: That’s what it was like when he left Tim Geithner, one of the chief architects of Bush’s bailout, in command of the no-strings­attached rescue four years after Bush left office.

In the end, there was no lending requirement attached to any aspect of the bailout, and there never would be. Banks used their hundreds of billions for almost every purpose under the sun – everything, that is, but lending to the homeowners and small businesses and cities they had destroyed. And one of the most disgusting uses they found for all their billions in free government money was to help them earn even more free government money.

Taibbi concludes:

So what exactly did the bailout accomplish? It built a banking system that discriminates against community banks, makes Too Big to Fail banks even Too Bigger to Failier, increases risk, discourages sound business lending and punishes savings by making it even easier and more profitable to chase high-yield investments than to compete for small depositors. The bailout has also made lying on behalf of our biggest and most corrupt banks the official policy of the United States government. And if any one of those banks fails, it will cause another financial crisis, meaning we’re essentially wedded to that policy for the rest of eternity – or at least until the markets call our bluff, which could happen any minute now.

Other than that, the bailout was a smashing success.

You should read the whole thing.


  1. baal says

    Thanks for the heads up. I can’t imagine what a difference it’d make if there was a Matt Taibbi at every major national publication.

  2. says

    Thank you for the clear explanations. Your recitation appears far better than most other and concise.
    Do you believe that a Glass Steagall would be able to be re imposed? What do you think about the FDIC allowing derivatives under its Roof?
    Thanks again

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