08 Dec How dare you pay us back just so you can do what you want?
Andrew Ross Sorkin has a “big scoop” for you to read, and he broke it here in the New York Times today … My readers should know that I am a fan of Sorkin’s, and very favorably reviewed his recent book about the financial crisis here. So usually I am a Sorkin fan, not a detractor. But this “scoop” he broke today is about as absurd as anything I have ever read.
Sorkin wants you to know that Bank of America only wants to pay back the government because it wants to be able to offer better pay packages to its executives. That’s right – Bank of America wants out from under TARP, because they deem it to be in their self-interest to not owe the government money, and to not be tied down by government regulation as it looks for its new CEO.
If this is a scoop, then I ought to win a Pulitzer with my new piece coming out about Tiger Woods being an amorous guy.
The implicit message of Sorkin’s piece is not too difficult to discern: Bank of America was bailed out by the taxpayers (which they were), and even though they are now in a position to pay back, we ought to be skeptical of their greedy, questionable motivations. Because after all, wanting to pay your key employees without the regulation of a pay czar, is very greedy and questionable. Ay yi yi.
Here is the problem. Barney Frank popped off. This loudmouth degenerate Congressman who probably did more to cause the financial crisis than any other lawmaker on the hill opened his big mouth. And in the course of justifying why Congress was now going to tell the big financial firms what they could pay their janitors, Barney said, “if they don’t like it, they can give the money back.” I will never forget his sniveling, arrogant speech to the CEO’s of the nine Wall Street firms who took TARP funds (some against their will) where he sneered at them that they could pay it back that day (only to find out later that the Obama administration was livid with him for saying that people could pay it back before they said they could pay it back). Congress voted for TARP – no one forced them to do it. Bank of America took the money, and now is willing to pay it back with agreed upon interest and warrant compensation (a huge premium to the taxpayer). If Bank of America’s motivation is that they don’t like Geithner’s favorite color, it doesn’t matter – they have every right to pay it back, and they have every right to do so even if their motivation is self-serving. In fact, if I were a BofA shareholder and their motivation was not self-serving, I would be livid.
The underlying problem here is that TARP teed up the greatest opportunity for government intervention in the marketplace in the history of mankind. BofA, unlike several of the firms, was in dire straits and genuinely needed the funds. And as long as they were indebted to Uncle Sam (which is us taxpayers), not much could be said about it. They were going to be bossed around by the lifetime bureacrats who were calling the shots, despite having never run a lemonade stand, let alone a trading desk. But now, BofA has done what you would think us taxpayers want them to do – replace public capital with private capital. And seeing this control over the private sector slipping away, some bemoan BofA’s motive in paying the funds back. It is mystifying.
The “bailout” of Bank of America was labeled a bailout of banking executives and Wall Street tycoons, the bulk of which saw their stock value go from $50 to $3 per share. No efforts were exerted by any side to call it what it was: a bailout of bondholders, and to a lesser degree, a bailout of depositors. That failure of salesmanship is irreversible. BofA (and the entire financial system) has to live with that blow. But to now resist firms paying back us taxpayers (at a huge, huge premium) is unconscionable.
Be careful what you ask for, Congressman Frank. Some people’s money motivation also serves the dual purpose of doing the righteous thing.