Measuring the True Cost of Government Bailout

91 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2010

See all articles by Cheryl D. Block

Cheryl D. Block

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: March 30, 2010


By all accounts, the variety and scale of government intervention to assist individual businesses and industries, and to provide general economic stimulus during the 2008-2009 economic crisis, was extraordinary. Understandably, taxpayers have been concerned about the cost. A simple tally of dollars authorized or disbursed, of course, is wholly inadequate to accurately assess the costs of various interventions. This Article addresses the challenges of providing reasonable budgetary information with respect to different types of bailout expenditures. In addition to looking at costs for the more obvious bailout programs, the analysis explores the special challenges of cost estimation for other more covert actions, such as special tax breaks or relief from burdensome regulation, that serve a "bailout" function. Another notable feature of recent bailout-related government activity is the fragmentation of intervention efforts, which involved the off-budget Federal Reserve, off-budget government-sponsored enterprises, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Treasury Department, and numerous other on-budget agencies. The Article takes issue with some of the methodologies used by the government to value assets obtained in its bailout efforts, and argues that decision making about the appropriate allocation of aggregate resources is hampered when some expenditures are off budget altogether and when even on-budget agencies used different methods of accounting. Adequate and transparent budget accounting for bailout costs requires greater consistency in valuation and accounting methods, and a more unified presentation of aggregate information in the budget with respect to all government bailout-type activities.

Keywords: bailout, federal budget, Federal Reserve, net operating losses, TARP

JEL Classification: D61, E4, E5, E6, H2, H5, H6

Suggested Citation

Block, Cheryl D., Measuring the True Cost of Government Bailout (March 30, 2010). Washington U. School of Law Working Paper No. 10-03-12, Available at SSRN: or

Cheryl D. Block (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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