Here is my biggest problem with the bailout: it all happened too quickly for the American public to understand why it was so critical (if, in fact, it was).
I don't know about you but for me it seemed like one day things were fine and then the next day high-profile government types (like Paulson and Bernacke) were on TV telling us that the economy was on the brink of disaster. Yes, the stock market was in a plunge but, hey, stocks have fallen considerably since the Bailout Bill was passed.
The party line from all in government and finance was that the country "was on the edge of gridlock - with the mechanisms of financing coming to a grinding halt - and heaven, help us if that happened." And then, what felt like the next day, the U.S. taxpayer picked up a $700 billion liability.
Obviously I am exaggerating a little bit but not much. In hindsight, it is shocking that our leaders were caught so off guard that the resulting efforts to stem the tide seemed frenetic and disjointed. And, as I mentioned to anyone who would listen at the time, I do not think our leaders did even a mediocre job in explaining to the American public what was going wrong and why we needed to act immediately to correct whatever was going wrong.
As a result, I am worried about the public accepting what happened and getting comfortable with the fact that in just a matter of weeks the Treasury has already spent $290 billion of the $350 initially authorized for the bailout. I worry because getting ourselves out of the economic morass we are now in will require a unity of purpose from our entire country. If the average guy feels that he got rammed, then the collective spirit needed to pull us out of a spiral (the kind of will that helped the country recover from 9/11) may never materialize - thereby prolonging our national agony.
Reading an article in today's New York Times ("Lobbyists Swarming the Treasury for a Helping of the Bailout Pie") makes me shiver. Lawyers and lobbyists have responded to the bailout with SWAT teams ready to take any paying customers to the Treasury and help them create a great story why the country will definitely collapse if their business is not bailed out: the Times article references car dealers, boat dealers and plumbers all in line for a bailout.
Hey what about a business writer?? Without guys like me blogging and writing books, well then the information flow that keeps our country moving forward will come to a sudden and painful halt. I shudder to think of the consequences of that happening! In light of my and my fellow writers critical service to keeping the country informed, I think we definitely should qualify for bailout money. Let me speak with some friends of mine and then call Hank Paulson - I think a nice even billion would just about do it.
Jim Randel is the author of The Skinny on the Housing Crisis (Clover Leaf 2008) and Confessions of a Real Estate Entrepreneur (McGraw Hill 2006).