The Problem With Bail-Outs

Posted on 21st September, 2009

This piece was also published by The Huffington Post:


For a moment, let’s put party politics and arguments about what government is, and is not, for to one side.


Because it seems to me that anyone who is interested in effective management should be exceptionally wary of public bail-outs for much more prosaic reasons.


Whether or not any of us thinks that bail-outs can be justified in principle, in practice they tend at best to reinforce poor management, and at worst they even reward it.


I cannot think of a single example of an industry or sector that has been bailed out over the last18 months that is not also well-known for its poor management practices. Newspapers, the latest in the long line outside the Oval Office, are a prime example.


So what kind of message does a taxpayer-funded bail-out provide?


Keep up the good work guys. Carry on regardless.


Now those familiar with the fine detail of the bail-out packages will retort that, because of the large sums of money involved, these deals are conditionalised on improved management practices, in order to return maximum value to those ‘investing’.


That may be the intention. But history suggests that, over and again, the required changes just simply don't materialise.


And why should they? When a slovenly management culture is not forced, by a disastrous bottom line, to rethink totally its approach, any attempts at change are more than likely to be half-hearted at best.


When did you last walk into a bailed-out bank, automobile manufacturer, coal producer, aircraft maker, telecoms business or postal service and think, with the smug sense of satisfaction that only a wise investor can enjoy, “yes, that’s a really well-run business”?

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