So, the U.S. Treasury Department sold the last of its General Motors shares.
The department seems to have done a good job with the investments it made through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
The department made the investments — in other words, it partially, temporarily nationalized many fine companies — in the wake of the financial meltdown, which was caused by the collapse of the country’s short-term credit system, which was caused by the collapse of a credit bubble, which was caused by the Federal Reserve Board lowering interest rates to cheer us up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Timothy Geithner, the former Treasury secretary, implied at congressional hearings on the bailout that one set of paranoid fantasies was false — that he and other federal officials did not organize the bailout because of ardent love for Goldman Sachs.
But Geithner openly said that another set of paranoid fantasies was true: That officials organized the bailout because they were scared that letting the meltdown continue would lead to a run on the banks and who knows what else.
The sorts of cheerful, well-organized people who specialize in financial planning note that, even with the recent wave of price increases, most healthy, middle-income and lower-upper-income people in their 40s and 50s could easily afford to buy a helpful amount of private long-term care insurance (LTCI) by reallocating a little of their cappuccino money.
What I think that assessment fails to take into account is that we young Baby Boomer and Generation X consumers who have somehow survived wave after wave of layoffs, business failures and profession-eliminating regulatory and technology changes can see that coffee exists today. We spend money today and drink coffee.
We have some faith in the idea that, if we make a dinner reservation at lunch time, the restaurant will still exist in the evening. We figure, if we pay for health insurance from a licensed insurer, some regulator will smack someone around and keep us insured if our insurer goes under.
But that’s kind of about it, as far as faith in stability goes.
If we have employers, we look carefully around the office when we arrive in the morning to see whether anyone has brought in any empty cardboard boxes.
If we are our own bosses, we try to live in a golden mental moment in which we use coffee, tea, Red Bull, prayer or obsession with Mad Men to keep thoughts about the impossibility of a cash-strapped business getting emergency credit out of our thoughts.
We see that health clubs and members-only toddler playrooms tend to die about half-way through our annual subscriptions.
We see that TARP was a non-intentionally evil, modestly profitable success because it kept civilization from collapsing. Joy.
In other words, as far as we consumers can tell, TARP is good, or, at least, not evil because five years ago we were one volatile House vote away from civilization as we know it possibly ending.
Yay, TARP. It put some kind of scaffolding that was a little less rickety than our economic house of cards around the house of cards.
It’s just not easy to sell long-term care insurance or any other product that depends on consumers having a long-term outlook when programs like TARP send the message that the collapse of civilization as we know it is an outcome that fits comfortably in the range of improbable but possible long-range economic scenarios.