Certainly there are situations in which capital injections are necessary. In Britain, for example, there are only a handful of banks that matter, and those had their capital so depleted that there was no choice but to pour money into them, on onerous terms and with lots of strings attached. And certainly, as with PNC’s purchase of National City, a dose of government capital can grease the takeover of a weak bank that might have otherwise failed and required government intervention. But making modest investments in dozens of banks, whether they needed it or not, produces little for the public beyond the small profit for the Treasury. What it does do, however, is open the door for every politician and populist to second-guess every decision and expenditure the banks make, based on the false assumption that everything they do is with “our money.”
Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.