In economics, a bailout is an act of loaning or giving capital to an entity (a company, a country, or an individual) that is in danger of failing, in an attempt to save it from bankruptcy, insolvency, or total liquidation and ruin; or to allow a failing entity to fail gracefully without spreading contagion.[1]



A bailout could be done for mere profit, as when a predatory investor resurrects a floundering company by buying its shares at fire-sale prices; for social improvement, as when, hypothetically speaking, a wealthy philanthropist reinvents an unprofitable fast food company into a non-profit food distribution network; or the bailout of a company might be seen as a necessity in order to prevent greater, socioeconomic failures: For example, the US government assumes transportation to be the backbone of America's general economic fluency, which maintains the nation's geopolitical power.[2] As such, it is the policy of the US government to protect the biggest American companies responsible for transportation—airliners, petrol companies, etc.—from failure through subsidies and low-interest loans. These companies, among others, are deemed "too big to fail" because their goods and services are considered by the government to be constant universal necessities in maintaining the nation's welfare and often, indirectly, its security.[3][4]

Emergency-type government bailouts can be controversial. Debates raged in 2008 over if and how to bailout the failing auto industry in the United States. Those against it, like pro-free market radio personality Hugh Hewitt, saw this bailout as an unacceptable passing-of-the-buck to taxpayers. He denounced any bailout for the Big Three, arguing that mismanagement caused the companies to fail, and they now deserve to be dismantled organically by the free-market forces so that entrepreneurs may arise from the ashes; that the bailout signals lower business standards for giant companies by incentivizing risk, creating moral hazard through the assurance of safety nets (that others will pay for) that ought not be, but unfortunately are, considered in business equations; and that a bailout promotes centralized bureaucracy by allowing government powers to choose the terms of the bailout. Others, such as economist Jeffrey Sachs[5] have characterized this particular bailout as a necessary evil and have argued that the probable incompetence in management of the car companies is insufficient reason to let them fail completely and risk disturbing the (current) delicate economic state of the United States, since up to three million jobs rest on the solvency of the Big Three and things are bleak enough as it is. In any case, the bones of contention here can be generalized to represent the issues at large, namely the virtues of private enterprise versus those of central planning, and the dangers of a free market's volatility versus the dangers of socialist bureaucracy.

Furthermore, government bailouts are criticized as corporate welfare which encourages corporate irresponsibility.

Governments around the world have bailed out their nations' businesses with some frequency since the early 20th century. In general, the needs of the entity/entities bailed out are subordinate to the needs of the state.


From the many bailouts over the course of the 20th century, certain principles and lessons have emerged that are consistent:[6][7][8][9]

  • Central banks provide loans to help the system cope with liquidity concerns, where banks are unable or unwilling to provide loans to businesses or individuals. Lending into illiquidity, but not insolvency, was articulated at least as early as 1873, in Lombard Street, A Description of the Money Market, by Walter Bagehot.
  • Let insolvent institutions (i.e., those with insufficient funds to pay their short-term obligations or those with more debt than assets) fail in an orderly way.
  • Understand the true financial position of key financial institutions, through audits or other means. Ensure the extent of losses and quality of assets are known and reported by the institutions.[10]
  • Banks that are deemed healthy enough (or important enough) to survive require recapitalization, which involves the government providing funds to the bank in exchange for preferred stock, which receives a cash dividend over time.[11]
  • If taking over an institution due to insolvency, take effective control through the board or new management, cancel the common stock equity (i.e., existing shareholders lose their investment), but protect the debt holders and suppliers.
  • Government should take an ownership (equity or stock) interest to the extent taxpayer assistance is provided, so that taxpayers can benefit later. In other words, the government becomes the owner and can later obtain funds by issuing new common stock shares to the public when the nationalized institution is later privatized.
  • A special government entity is created to administer the program, such as the Resolution Trust Corporation.
  • Prohibit dividend payments, to ensure taxpayer money are used for loans and strengthening the bank, rather than payments to investors.
  • Interest rate cuts, to lower lending rates and stimulate the economy.

Reasons against bailouts

  • Signals lower business standards for giant companies by incentivizing risk
  • Creates moral hazard through the assurance of safety nets
  • Promotes centralized bureaucracy by allowing government powers to choose the terms of the bailout
  • Instills a corporatist style of government in which businesses use the state's power to forcibly extract money from taxpayers.

Paul Volcker, chairman of Barack Obama's White House Economic Recovery Advisory Board, said that bailouts create moral hazard: they signal to the firms that they can take reckless risks, and if the risks are realized, taxpayers pay the losses, also in the future. "The danger is the spread of moral hazard could make the next crisis much bigger".[12]

On November 24, 2008, American Republican Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) wrote, "In bailing out failing companies, they are confiscating money from productive members of the economy and giving it to failing ones. By sustaining companies with obsolete or unsustainable business models, the government prevents their resources from being liquidated and made available to other companies that can put them to better, more productive use. An essential element of a healthy free market, is that both success and failure must be permitted to happen when they are earned. But instead with a bailout, the rewards are reversed – the proceeds from successful entities are given to failing ones. How this is supposed to be good for our economy is beyond me.... It won’t work. It can’t work... It is obvious to most Americans that we need to reject corporate cronyism, and allow the natural regulations and incentives of the free market to pick the winners and losers in our economy, not the whims of bureaucrats and politicians."[13]


In 2000, World Bank reported that banking bailouts cost an average of 12.8% of GDP. [14] The report stated:

Governments and, thus ultimately taxpayers, have largely shouldered the direct costs of banking system collapses. These costs have been large: in our sample of 40 countries governments spent on average 12.8 percent of national GDP to clean up their financial systems.


Irish banking rescue

Irish banks suffered substantial share price falls due to a lack of liquidity in finance available to them on the international financial markets. Currently, solvency is being revealed as the most serious concern as doubtful loans to property developers, still undeclared in bad debt provisions, come into focus.

Swedish banking rescue

During 1991–1992, a housing bubble in Sweden deflated, resulting in a severe credit crunch and widespread bank insolvency. The causes were similar to those of the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007–2008. In response, the government took the following actions:[16]

  • Sweden's government assumed bad bank debts, but banks had to write down losses and issue an ownership interest (common stock) to the government. Shareholders were typically wiped out, but bondholders were protected.
  • When distressed assets were later sold, the profits flowed to taxpayers, and the government was able to recoup more money later by selling its shares in the companies in public offerings.
  • The government announced the state would guarantee all bank deposits and creditors of the nation’s 114 banks.
  • Sweden formed a new agency to supervise institutions that needed recapitalization, and another that sold off the assets, mainly real estate, that the banks held as collateral.

This bailout initially cost about 4% of Sweden's GDP, later lowered to between 0–2% of GDP depending on various assumptions due to the value of stock later sold when the nationalized banks were privatized.

U.S. Savings and Loan Crisis

In response to widespread bank insolvency as a result of the Savings and Loan crisis, the United States established the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) in 1989.

US TARP and related programs

In 2008-9 the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve System bailed out numerous very large banks and insurance companies, as well as General Motors and Chrysler. Congress at the urgent request of President George W. Bush passed the Troubled Asset Relief Program or "TARP", funded at $700 billion. The banks have largely repaid the money and the net cost of TARP may eventually be in the range of $30 billion.[17] The bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, which insure mortgages, totals $135 billion by October 2010, and could be much higher, depending on the future of the housing and mortgage markets.[18]

The issue of federal bailouts of the banks and big corporations became a major issue of the 2010 elections, with the Tea Party movement in particular focusing its attack on bailouts.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Definition of a bailout from a business dictionary
  2. ^ Chomsky, Noam (2006). Failed States. 
  3. ^ a b Surowiecki, James (2008-02-31). "Too Dumb To Fail". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  4. ^ Too Big to Fail?
  5. ^ A Bridge for the Carmakers
  6. ^ Mason-Lessons from Bailouts Part 2
  7. ^ Lessons from Japan Bailout
  8. ^ IMF Paper
  9. ^ Time Magazine - Lessons from Japan & Asia
  10. ^ NYT-Lessons from Japan
  11. ^ Blodgett History of Bailouts
  12. ^ Volcker Criticizes Obama Plan on ‘Systemically Important’ Firms Bloomberg, 2009-09-24
  13. ^ The Bailout Surge, by Ron Paul, 11-24-2008
  14. ^ Patrick Honohan and Daniela Klingebiel, Development Research Group, Finance and Sector Strategy and Policy Department, "Controlling the Fiscal Costs of Banking Crises" "The World Bank September 2000
  15. ^ "Behind the Bailout" — NOW on PBS
  16. ^ Dougherty, Carter (2008-09-22). "Stopping a Financial Crisis, the Swedish Way". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  17. ^ see Daniel Gross, "Treasury's TARP, AIG bailout Costs Fall to $30 Billion," Yahoo! Finance Oct. 5, 2010
  18. ^ Tamara Keith, "Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Bailout Costs Could Soar"NPR Oct. 21, 2010
  19. ^ Brad Bannon, "Bank Bailout Spawned Obama and Dems’ Tea Party Problem" USNews September 9, 2010; Bannon is a liberal pollster

Further reading

External links

United States

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • bailout — UK US /ˈbeɪlaʊt/ noun [C, usually singular] ► ECONOMICS, FINANCE a loan or other financial support that is given to a person, company, or country to help them when they are in financial difficulties: »A government spokesman claimed that the… …   Financial and business terms

  • bailout — n. Financial assistance to an ailing business to save it from failure. v. bail out The Essential Law Dictionary. Sphinx Publishing, An imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. Amy Hackney Blackwell. 2008. bailout …   Law dictionary

  • bailout — (n.) 1945, in aviation, from BAIL (Cf. bail) (v.) + OUT (Cf. out). As federal help for private business in trouble, from 1968 …   Etymology dictionary

  • bailout — [bāl′out΄] n. [see BAIL1, vt. 3] 1. a helping out of one in difficulty ☆ 2. a providing of government financial aid to a failing company, city, etc …   English World dictionary

  • bailout — Various procedures whereby the owners of an entity can obtain its profits with favorable tax consequences. With corporations, for example, the bail out of corporate profits without dividend consequences might be the desired objective. The… …   Black's law dictionary

  • bailout — /bayl owt /, n. 1. the act of parachuting from an aircraft, esp. to escape a crash, fire, etc. 2. an instance of coming to the rescue, esp. financially: a government bailout of a large company. 3. an alternative, additional choice, or the like:… …   Universalium

  • Bailout — A situation in which a business, individual or government offers money to a failing business in order to prevent the consequences that arise from a business s downfall. Bailouts can take the form of loans, bonds, stocks or cash. They may or may… …   Investment dictionary

  • bailout — UK [ˈbeɪlaʊt] / US [ˈbeɪlˌaʊt] noun [countable] Word forms bailout : singular bailout plural bailouts mainly American money that someone gives or lends to a person or organization with financial problems …   English dictionary

  • Bailout — Das Wort Bail out (auch Bailout, Bail Out) bezeichnet: Bail out (Wirtschaft), die Schuldenübernahme und Tilgung durch Dritte Bail out (Internet), eine Messgröße des Web Publishing Bail out (Luftfahrt), einen Begriff der militärischen Luftfahrt …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • bailout — noun /ˈbeɪlˌawt/ a) a rescue, especially a financial rescue The government bailout of that corporation is going to cost the taxpayers a hundred billion dollars. b) a backup supply of air in scuba diving See Also …   Wiktionary

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