The government official who recently left office over the housing crisis is someone who actually fought for the people instead of laying the groundwork for a cushy job awaiting him in the private sector. Neil Barofsky, the Special Inspector General for TARP resigned his post effective Wednesday, March 30. On his way out the door, he was still publicly arguing with the Treasury over the legacy of the $700 billion dollar Troubled Asset Relief Program (“TARP”).
Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com called Barofsky “easily one of the most impressive and courageous political officials in Washington” for his willingness to stand up to some of the most powerful people, institutions, and special interest lobbies in Washington and Wall Street.
On March 29, before his departure from office, he wrote a piece for the New York Times titled “Where the Bailout Went Wrong.” The piece, so vicious in its criticisms of the TARP program and politicians in Washington, prompted the Wall Street Journal to run excerpts from it along with their own commentary on the TARP fiasco.
Of the failed bailout Barofsky wrote:
“Two and a half years ago, Congress passed the legislation that bailed out the country’s banks. The government has declared its mission accomplished, calling the program remarkably effective ‘by any objective measure.’ On my last day as the special inspector general of the bailout program, I regret to say that I strongly disagree . . . Almost immediately [after passage], as permitted by the broad language of the act, Treasury’s plan for TARP shifted from the purchase of mortgages [that would have helped everyday homeowners] to the infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars into the nation’s largest financial institutions, a shift that came with the express promise that it would restore lending.”
Free money to banks, “free for all” (except homeowners)
The Treasury, however, provided the money to banks with no effective policy or effort to compel the extension of credit. There were no strings attached: no requirement or even incentive to increase lending to home buyers, and against our strong recommendation, not even a request that banks report how they used TARP funds.
Barofsky concluded with the following:
“[The] Treasury’s mismanagement of TARP and its disregard for TARP’s Main Street goals – whether born of incompetence, timidity in the face of a crisis or a mindset too closely aligned with the banks it was supposed to rein in – may have so damaged the credibility of the government as a whole that future policy makers may be politically unable to take the necessary steps to save the system the next time a crisis arises. This avoidable political reality might just be TARP’s most lasting, and unfortunate, legacy.”
Crash, burn, what next?
These failings of the Treasury have also resulted in larger banks that control a larger portion of our economy. This asks the question, why should the banks do anything different the next time around? In exchange for almost crashing the entire world economy, they come out larger, richer, and virtually guaranteed of future bailouts if governments want to avoid economic depression. Indeed, according to Barofsky, credit rating agencies are now taking into account the likelihood of future bailouts when determining the financial health of a company.
We salute Neil Barofsky and wish a great public servant the very best.
From The Trenches
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