The $700 billion bailout for “financial institutions” requested by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson amounts to $6,300 per household. Fortunately, we will not have to pay it off this year, but the amount with interest will be spread across several years.
Many expert economists question whether the bailout will solve the economy’s problem. An even larger share, believe the bailout should not be approved without a variety of constraints on how the money is spent. Many also question the degree of urgency and the need to act right away.
Not surprisingly, Secretary Paulson claims the sky is falling and he needs the $700 billion this week. Two years ago he made $37 million a year as CEO of a now-vulnerable investment bank. Then President Bush asked him to head the nation’s Treasury Department.
On the other hand, some economists argue that the economy would be better off without unregulated investment banking, and that real estate values would settle down faster without a bailout of the type demanded. After all, investment banking has become a collection of unregulated casinos that keep coming up with new games investors can play.
In a political system such as ours that asks individuals to stand on their own and pay for their own welfare, shouldn’t corporations be allowed to fail if they take huge risks without insurance or collateral?
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the economy really has to be bailed out by the government. In a democracy like ours shouldn’t the people rather than Congress be asked to pull out their check books and pay for the bailout? They are asked to pay for our society’s social charity, why not economic charity?
Individual Americans already write checks for charity for about $230 billion a year according to Giving USA. And according to the Independent Sector, last year American volunteers gave 8.1 billion hours of free labor worth $162 billion dollars through formal organizations. On the basis of the American Time Use, I estimate that that Americans volunteered an additional $345 billion worth of free informal community service. Compare this huge value of charitable donations to last year’s United States Federal budget allocation of $294 billion for unemployment and welfare.
Americans could do the same for the Investment Banking industry if they thought it was important enough. Why should the American people be given the option to be charitable to their fellow human beings, but forced to be charitable to the financial sector? Why should charity to businesses be determined by Congress and lobbyists but charity to the people left largely to private donations?
Rather than buying assets of failing banks at inflated prices, the economy would be better served by loans to small as well as large businesses, and to home owners facing foreclosure as well as to businesses facing bankruptcy.
Then the public should be asked to double their charitable donations this year and write checks to funds for ailing businesses. People should be given the choice as to which type of business receives their donation. This would be true economic democracy.
The Bush administration’s enacted concept of democracy continues to be freedom for economic institutions with little regard to freedom for individuals. What is your conception of how democracy should deal with financial institutions?