Just wanted to pass on this very salient point from Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Weil:
President Barack Obama did Americans a great service yesterday. He boiled down what’s wrong with his administration’s approach to the financial crisis into a single, symbolic statistic.
Striking a hopeful tone during a speech on the first anniversary of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s collapse, the president said banks have repaid more than $70 billion of taxpayer money that they had accepted from the government. “And in those cases where the government stakes have been sold completely,” he said, “taxpayers have actually earned a 17 percent return on their investment.”
This is the kind of math that helped get Lehman into so much trouble. It’s called cherry-picking.
Let’s be clear: Taxpayers have not earned a 17 percent return on their investment in companies that have accepted federal bailout money. Real-life investors don’t count only their winners. They count their losers, too, including investments that have declined in value and remain unsold.
A few minutes after that bit of bravado, the president identified the “simple principle” in which all his proposed reforms of the financial regulatory system are rooted: “We ought to set clear rules of the road that promote transparency and accountability.” He’s right. We should. A good place to start would be with the people who crunch numbers for the president’s speeches.
Trumpeting the 17% gain on bailout funds returned so far is like saying I invested 90% of my money into a company that’s probably bankrupt, but I must be doing OK because I made a 17% return on the remaining 10%.