Monday, October 20, 2008

government spending

From James Surowiecki:
[...] surely calling the recapitalization package “spending” is more than a bit misleading, since the money will be literally invested, going to purchase preferred shares in the banks, which come with guaranteed dividends and warrants attached that will give the government an upside (albeit not enough of one) if the banks’ stock prices rise. If you take part of your income and buy municipal bonds or stock, we generally wouldn’t say you’d spent that money. We’d say you invested it. I realize that, given the way the U.S. budget is accounted for, it’s accurate to say the $250 billion package is increasing the deficit. But it’d be good to see some acknowledgement that, in this case, “spending” that money is going to make the government richer, not poorer.

After the last few weeks, I think we can all agree that investing your money doesn't necessarily make you richer.

In particular, the government isn't making such a great investment. Some people seem to think there's a decent chance that the government will make money on these investments. To them, I'd say: could I interest you in some lovely mortgage-backed CDOs?

There's a good point in the quoted post, though: it might be interesting to see a government accounting that's more like private sector accounting in some ways. For example, even though the government debt ballooned when Fannie and Freddie were nationalized, that debt is offset to some (unknown) extent by Fannie and Freddie's assets. Just looking at the debt number is a bit misleading; what you'd really like to see is something like a balance sheet instead.

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