Citibank - The New State Bank of America

A small portrait of the translator

November 26, 2008 @ 19:17 UTC

Written by

Barack Obama
Economy & Trade

The United States Government took a giant step towards nationalization of the American banking system by announcing a plan to fund and backstop Citigroup, the beleaguered financial giant that has lost over $160 billion in market cap. The guarantees being provided include an additional capital infusion of $20 billion, loss guarantees up to $306 billion in a layered manner between Citi, the Federal Reserve, and the FDIC.

In return, Citi would issue $7 billion of 8% preferred stock to the government and additional stock warrants of about $2.5 billion. It would also promise not to pay out more than 1 cent dividend on common stock for the next three years. Finally, and most notably, the government would have final approval over all executive compensation and bonuses.

This last point is perhaps the most far-reaching, and as we all know the adage about paid pipers and their tunes, Vikram Pandit is henceforth a Federal Government employee, with hopefully greater job security than he had before this weekend. This mechanism gives government regulators a greater say over banking operations, and potentially opens the door to similar measures being adopted for other banks, or even other industries.

President-elect Barack Obama might end up appointing an auto czar, a music supremo, and perhaps even look to employ Bill Gates as CIO. The corporatization of the state will have an impact on the way it is run, which could work positively, but states have been corporatized for a long time, and this will only accentuate the incestuous relationship between neo-liberalism, corporatism, and statism.

Unfortunately, the victim in this circle jerk will be liberalism. Friedrich Hayek put it well when he noted,

If we ever again are going to have a decent money, it will not come from government: it will be issued by private enterprise, because providing the public with good money which it can trust and use can not only be an extremely profitable business; it imposes on the issuer a discipline to which the government has never been and cannot be subject…. The monopoly of government of issuing money has not only deprived us of good money but has also deprived us of the only process by which we can find out what would be good money.

Consider a humble bank manager in the Midwest a year from today having to evaluate between a loan to a start-up promising to improve productivity by over 20% with more efficient outsourcing automation. He is about to sign on the dotted line when he gets a call or a buzz from his friendly neighborhood Congressman, suggesting it might be a better idea instead to fund the local chapter of the UAW.

Welcome to Citibank, the new State Bank of America.

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