Monday, Jan. 05, 2009

Bailout Report Card: How Successful Have the Financial-Relief Efforts Been?

You have probably read about the $700 billion approved by Congress in a contentious vote in early October. But that's only the most public portion of the money the government is shelling out to restart the nation's stalled financial system. In the past 16 weeks, the government has pledged, loaned or invested some $10 trillion to fix ailing banks, jump-start financial markets and keep the automakers from bankruptcy.

The final cost won't be that high, since most of the assets the government is buying or insuring have some value. Nonetheless, the past few months have been expensive ones for U.S. taxpayers. Have the efforts been successful? It depends how low you set the bar. Our financial system hasn't fully collapsed, but neither is it repaired. "The bailout programs have bought us time, but they haven't fixed the problems, and in some ways they have exacerbated them," says Edward Yardeni, who heads his own economic consulting firm.

In late December, the government finished spending the first half of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, making now a perfect time for a report card on TARP and the many other assistance efforts the government has pursued. One effort, the recent auto-industry bailout, is too new to assess. But as for the other government efforts, although there are some bright spots, it's far from a sterling review. Read on and weep: