The $309 billion the government pumped into the banks and AIG has, so far, earned the government -- and taxpayers -- $25.2 billion. That's an 8.2 percent return over two years -- better than you would've gotten by investing in Treasury bills or money-market funds, though worse than you would've gotten from the stock market over the same period. And it kept the financial market from collapsing. Not bad, right?
That's not how the voters see it. TARP is among the least popular policies in recent memory. It has already lost some politicians -- like Utah's Sen. Bob Bennet -- their jobs, and will doubtless take more in November. Pollsters and politicians will tell you that part of the reason for the stimulus's unpopularity is that many voters confuse it with TARP. And yet, TARP may be the highest-return policy the government has implemented in decades. When you add up the benefits of the financial system not melting down, and then the direct returns to the investment, the bang-for-the-buck has been astounding. But good policy does not always make good politics.
Click to view image: 'TARP'
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