The government did not make a profit on TARP.

It’s frustrating to see that people who should know better are still saying this. That the government bought for 80 something it could have bought for 50 that went to 100 does not mean it earned a profit. In other words, the government could have made just as much cash for a lower upfront investment if it bought its equity stake in Citigroup on the market. You might say that the government overpaying to capitalize a systematically important yet insolvent institution was a good idea, and you would very plausibly be right. But in that case you would be happy about the outcome even if the government lost some of its TARP money. Citigroup did not accept public capital at a high price because it wanted to be charitable to the government. It accepted public capital at a low price because no one else would make an offer nearly as good. No economist, journalist, or politician would have been happy with the terms of TARP if they were lending their own money. The government didn’t proft from TARP any more than I did from the game of Russian roullette I survived that I was paid to play the other day. 

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1 comment
  1. Theodore Malter said:

    Apologies if I’ve misunderstood, but wouldn’t it be more accurate to say “the government could have made a bigger profit from TARP” than “the government didn’t profit from TARP”? It seems like there’s a misperception among the public that the government’s injection of funds into financial markets during the crisis was not repaid at all, so I worry that phrasing a critique this way might lead to some unnecessary confusion.

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