NPR = Not-news Public Radio?

[cross posted]
What gives with this morning’s NPR “Morning Edition” story about banks that are choosing to steer clear of TARP bailout money? Reporter Jim Zarroli mostly profiles the Johnson Financial Group, a bank that at first applied for $100 million, then decided not to take it after all once it learned the details of the the strings that come attached, saying that this bank is just one example of many that represent a “mini rebellion” against the TARP program. As the president of Johnson Financial Group says directly, and as Zarroli reiterates later in the story, Johnson didn’t need the money! Why in the hell would it be news–or be considered “rebellious”–that a healthy bank would not participate in a welfare program for the financial industry? Why is is conceivably news that TARP is designed to include incentives that encourage banks to pay back money they receive through the program quickly? Though undoubtedly flawed six ways to Sunday, the basic idea behind the TARP bailout is that it provides money to large banks that will otherwise go bankrupt or experience major disruptions–and spread those disruptions to other financial institutions, and through them the rest of the economy–and is designed so that the banks will eventually pay back the government (and so, you and me as taxpayers). Zarroli briefly quoted Rep. Barney Frank in defense of TARP and the strings that it attaches to its payouts, but 98% of the story is just bankers whining about either being forced to bank responsibly or whining about not having access to free taxpayer money, free even of the relatively mild strings that are part of TARP. I guess it needs repeating, though I wouldn’t have thought it necessary:

  1. TARP money should only be available to banks that actually need it to avoid major business disruptions. That a bank like Johnson, which is in good financial condition, is even allowed to apply for TARP funds is a flaw in TARP. The flaw is not that TARP’s strings cause Johnson to say “no thanks.”
  2. Banks that take TARP money not only are required, but by all rights should be required to pay back that money in full, and including interest payments to cover the risk that taxpayers are taking that not all TARP recipients will pay back in full after all is said and done. This is banking after all, right?
  3. Banks that take TARP money should pay back the money sooner rather than later. What’s the advantage to taxpayers for having the banks sit on the money longer than they need it?

No-strings-attached banking is what primed the financial bomb that has now exploded in our faces. Responsible banking practices are needed more then ever, and NPR’s promotion of irresponsible banking propaganda does not help.