And although there are a lot of Americans who understandably think that government money would be better spent going directly to families and businesses instead of to banks — one of my most frequent questions in the letters that I get from constituents is, “Where’s my bailout?” — and I understand the sentiment. It makes sense intuitively, and morally it makes sense, but the truth is that a dollar of capital in a bank can actually result in $8 or $10 of loans to families and businesses. So that’s a multiplier effect that can ultimately lead to a faster pace of economic growth. That’s why we have to fix the banks.
Now, on the other hand, there have been some who don’t dispute that we need to shore up the banking system, but they suggest that we’ve been too timid in how we go about it. This is essentially the nationalization argument that some of you may have heard. And the argument says that the federal government should have already preemptively stepped in and taken over major financial institutions the way that the FDIC currently intervenes in smaller banks, and that our failure, my administration’s failure to do so is yet another example of Washington coddling Wall Street — “Why aren’t you tougher on the banks?”
So let me be clear: The reason we have not taken this step has nothing to do with any ideological or political judgment we’ve made about government involvement in banks. It’s certainly not because of any concern we have for the management and shareholders whose actions helped to cause this mess. Rather, it’s because we believe that preemptive government takeovers are likely to end up costing taxpayers even more in the end, and because it’s more likely to undermine than create confidence.
Governments should practice the same principle as doctors: First, do no harm. So rest assured — we will do whatever is necessary to get credit flowing again, but we will do so in ways that minimize risks to taxpayers and to the broader economy. To that end, in addition to the program to provide capital to the banks, we’ve launched a plan that will pair government resources with private investment in order to clear away the old loans and securities — the so-called toxic assets — that are also preventing our banks from lending money.