In an effort to avoid an economic collapse, the government authorized up to $700 billion dollars in investment failing banks, insurance and car companies in October of 2008. Two years after its enactment, the authorization for further investment expires this weekend. Few myths are more ingrained in American political discourse than the concept of a "$700 billion bailout." In reality the loan program will end up costing, at most $50 billion and may turn a profit for the federal government. The worst case scenario -- a loss of $50 billion -- would still mean that the American rescue program was less expensive than Ireland's: a country with a population smaller than Louisiana.
Many large banks have already paid the government back with interest. The auto companies are in the process of paying back loans, and the government will be able to divest from General Motors when the new GM has its initial public offering later this year. This week the Treasury negotiated a repayment plan with American International Group -- by far the company most indebted to the treasury. While its unlikely,though certainly possible, that both AIG and the auto companies will pay back the Treasury in full, the profits made from loans to the largest banks could allow the government to break even on the program as a whole. The graph below shows TARP expenditures and repayments by industry.