By Matthew Hougan
Can somebody tell me who's in charge of acronyms down in Washington?
As the financial markets continue to unravel, I'm struck by the awful acronym of the Paulson bailout plan: TARP, or Troubled Asset Relief Program.
A "tarp," according to Merriam-Webster, is short for "tarpaulin," which it defines as follows: a piece of material (as durable plastic) used for protecting exposed objects or areas.
That sounds pretty good, but you and I (and the American public) know what a tarp really is: It's the cheap coverall you use to temporarily hide more serious programs.
The last time I used a tarp was to cover the roof on my family's cabin in Maine, which had developed a nasty leak that I had neither the time nor the money to fix properly. My wife and I got up on the roof, covered it with a tarp, stapled that tarp to the shingles and then weighted it down with old tires (yes, it's rural Maine). It worked beautifully for a few weeks until a big storm came and blew both the tires and the tarp off the roof, leaving everything in worse shape than when I began.
That's probably a fair expectation for the TARP program too.
The U.S. Senate realized the shortcomings of the TARP acronym and tried to improve upon it, renaming it the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, or EESA. Not surprisingly, TARP stuck ... EESA doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.
I thought I would pitch in as my patriotic duty and come up with an alternative acronym for this vital program ... something that would energize the country and fully and fairly describe the goals of the bailout.
My first thought? This bill is all about corporate responsibility. Wall Street made a mess and the taxpayer is picking up the tab. That makes the choice of acronyms painfully clear. It must be called the Corporate Responsibility Action Plan (CRAP).
But then I got to thinking. One of the big worries people have is "moral hazard" ... the fear that if investors believe the U.S. government will always bail out financial firms, they will be encouraged to take on too much risk in the financial markets. That's just what this bill achieves. So why not the Moral and Ethical Hazard (METH) bill?
There are other options:
Financial Acquiescence by the Treasury to Corporate American Titans ( FATCAT )?
The Create Another Depression ((NYSEARCA:CAD)) plan?
Just Offer "K"orporations Everything (JOKE)?
Then it hit me: The best thing to do in times of crisis is to turn back to first principles ... to look at what really caused the crisis in the first place and use that to help name the program.
The way I see it, AIG was the linchpin of recent developments. And fortunately, AIG is a nice acronym. It technically stands for American International Group, but it is so commonly used that it has become the de facto name for the failed insurance giant. Why not just steal AIG's acronym and rename TARP the "AIG Bill"?
What would that stand for? Oh, that's easy:
Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed