Sunday, August 9, 2009

Just where did that TARP money go?

You can get lots of great detail about which institutions received TARP money at sites like Pro Publica, but as to exactly how the money was used is not so clear.

But it's not just the average citizen that is likely to be blocked in their attempt to follow the money any further than the front door of the recipient; it seems many of the watchdogs are suffering the same fate. From McClatchy:
Although hundreds of well-trained eyes are watching over the $700 billion that Congress last year decided to spend bailing out the nation's financial sector, it's still difficult to answer some of the most basic questions about where the money went. [snip]

When the Bush administration first went to Congress for the money, TARP's main purpose was to buy up hundreds of billions of dollars in bad mortgages and so-called mortgage-backed securities that were bought and sold on Wall Street.

Today, TARP consists of 12 programs that sent those hundreds of billions of dollars to big banks, but it's also bailed out auto companies, auto suppliers, individuals delinquent on their mortgages, small businesses and American International Group, the big insurance company.

The watchdogs now must oversee the maze that TARP has become.

Just because a lot of people are watching, however, doesn't mean they get everything they want to see.

If the professionals tasked with keeping an eye on this money are not able to do so, for whatever reason, what chance do the rest of us have?

Even though I am a fan of Elizabeth Warren, the article makes me worry that TARP oversight may have crossed over into "shoes in the x-ray machine" territory. This is when the government, confronted with an exceedingly difficult task, opts for highly visible but largely meaningless efforts to provide the illusion of effective action. In other words, the regulatory equivalent of "jumping the shark."

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