How Bailout Fatigue Could Doom Us All

A Wall Street bailout. An auto bailout. A housing bailout. And now, the last straw: a Bernie Madoff bailout. Pass the bucket: my stomach needs a bailout.

A $13.4 billion loan package for General Motors and Chrysler will exhaust the last of the $350 billion Congress granted the Treasury for bailout measures. The measure comes even though polls show most peole don't believe the auto industry deserves saving.

Can you blame us? The relentless rain of billion-dollar headlines, writedowns and recovery plans, toxic assets and bankrupted investors, has worn out our financial sympathies. Already, the sight of Detroit's chiefs flying in their private jets to beg Congress for money stoked popular outrage. How many more bailouts can we take?

And yet we have a month to go before anything can really happen, with Dubya a lame duck and President Change still president-elect. A blog-accelerated news cycle will make that seem like an eternity. By the time Barack Obama takes the oath of office, we may be tired of staging rescues.

That is a real danger for the heirs of Maynard Keynes, who are planning to inject hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the American economy. We desperately need to fix roads and bridges — remember the collapse of I-35W? — and the repair work alone could keep hundreds of thousands of people employed.

But one man's stimulus package is another man's bailout. The more plans dribble out, the more cynical we become that any of them will do any good. We need a bigger fix — and a better metaphor. A bailout, by definition is a temporary measure; water keeps flooding in. At some point, you have to patch the leaks. Or abandon ship.

(Photo via Old Picture of the Day)