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AIG Suffers Worst Quarterly Loss In U.S. Corporate History

March 3rd, 2009
American International Group, more commonly referred to as AIG, has earned the dubious distinction of having incurred the most massive quarterly loss in the entire history of American business. In Q4 of 2008 AIG reported that it had lost a staggering total of $61.7 billion. Factor in that the current total capitalization of what was once the largest insurance company in the world now stands at a paltry $1.2 billion, or about two percent of its Q4 loss, and the dire state of this company is even more starkly revealed. Why isn’t this calamity disguised as a corporation dead and buried? The answer is found in the monotonous mantra of the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury Department: “Too big to fail.”
Milking the rationale that the failure of the black hole of a company that AIG now is would pose an unacceptable systemic risk to the global financial system, the unelected bosses at the Fed and Treasury have been shoveling in virtually unlimited amounts of money to prop up the comatose insurance giant and maintain the existence what in reality is a zombie company. Last fall, when the crisis at AIG exploded simultaneously with the near meltdown of the global credit markets, the U.S. government extended a “bridge loan” to AIG of $85 billion. Since then, more and more cash has been pumped into AIG by the government, while the company continues to implode. The atrocious Q4 results came on the heels of another transfusion of taxpayers money into AIG, taking the total U.S. government commitment to around $185 billion. More ominously, the governmental authorities decided to convert some of their equity in AIG from preferred into common stock, a similar approach adopted with Citigroup, also a recipient of massive government bailout funding. The bottom line is that with the conversion to common stock, the government has placed the taxpayers at much greater risk. In effect, if AIG disappears despite the incomprehensible life support being provided to it, the American taxpayers stand to lose $185 billion.

How much is $185 billion? The financial numbers associated with the bailout mania that has occurred in the wake of the Global Economic Crisis tends to obscure the real meaning of these massive amounts of money being distributed by governments all over the world to businesses deemed “too large to fail.” To put the total AIG bailout package in perspective, $185 billion represents a payment by every man, woman and child in the United States to American International Group of $616, or about $2,464 from every family of four. Yet not a single ordinary U.S. citizen, not one average American family was consulted over this financial commitment by them that involves keeping alive a business that was recklessly managed and engaged in risky financial strategies. A commitment that may likely mean that the typical family will be on the hook for what is a sizeable amount of money for most Americans. And that is just one bailout of a company deemed “too big to fail.”

AIG is, after all, not the only recipient of taxpayer bailout money. There is the $700 billion TARP rescue of financial companies and banks, soon to be substantially increased. General Motors and Chrysler have received tens of billions of dollars in government cash, and are asking for substantially more funding. Other ineptly run businesses are lining up in Washington at the public trough, with their highly paid lobbyists making the case that these companies are also “too big to fail.”

As the Global Economic Crisis increasingly looks like the beginning of a worldwide economic depression, the impulsive commitment of staggering sums of public wealth by unelected bureaucrats and officials in Washington, in most cases without even the pretext of Congressional review, looks like a classic case of adding flammable liquid to the bonfire that is the American and global economy. Ultimately the question that must be asked is this: if the policy makers succeed in bankrupting America with their frenzy of corporate bailouts, do they then intend to make the case to America’s creditors, in particular China, that the United States is too big to fail, and must be bailed out-by them? This question, which at one time seemed more rhetorical than hypothetical, may arise sooner than we think.



















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