Remember TARP, the Toxic Asset Relief Program?
Oh, that’s right — we hate it. Big hole in the federal budget and all.
Then you should be dancing that it died Sunday night, right? Yeah, that’s right: TARP expired.
But, maybe we should be lamenting its passage, and celebrating it. It ended up costing us almost nothing but the problem of having Tea Party, ignorant ingrates involved in the campaign. It might even have turned a profit. In any case, it didn’t leave a big hole in the federal budget, and there is little doubt that it saved us from the Greater Depression.
What do we do with the end of TARP?
And what do we do with the news that TARP will not have cost anything like the $700 billion we thought it would? What if it really cost $50 billion, or less?
What if, in the end, the Toxic Asset Relief Program so controversial at birth and vilified throughout its two years of life turns out to have turned a profit for the government and the taxpayer?
We — most of the news media this is — simply don’t know what to do with this news.
The suggestion that TARP did not blow a hole in the federal budget potentially blows a hole in some other presumptions as well. Economists will argue for years over the necessity of TARP, and the rest of us can argue over the bonuses investment bankers still got (and continue to get).But we won’t argue about whether the government could or should have done more to prevent the collapse of the credit markets and the mass failure of banks in 2008. Because the government did do TARP, and those other things did not happen. We did not go back to 1929 or worse. And, unlovely as it may be, TARP remains the closest thing we have to an explanation for that.
Still, the expiration of the program as Sunday turned to Monday passed largely unremarked. And insofar as the media have noticed the story of TARP’s apparently much-reduced cost, that tale has been anything but ballyhooed.
(For an exception, see the package offered Sunday evening by Guy Raz and the crew at Weekend All Things Considered.)
On the last business day before TARP expired, The New York Times and The Washington Post did report the much-reduced cost figures — mentioning the potential for the program to actually make money for taxpayers in the final accounting. But the Times put the story in the Business Section, and the Post played it on the Federal Page.
What other “common sense” delusions will misdirect this year’s election vote?
What thanks do we get? What thanks do we give?