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Flashback Great American Bailout

October 13, 2008

“Whenever you're forced into something that you don't know nothing about, you're bound to make a boo-boo. ”
Joe Smith, real estate speculator

By the time it was over, the savings and loan crisis of the late 80's had sunk over 700 banks and cost American taxpayers an estimated $125 billion. It was, according to the man who presided over the bailout, "absolutely the largest single mistake ... the government has ever made in terms of the financial costs."

Now of course, there is a new champion in this category. While it will be some while before we know its final cost, there is reason to hope that, this time around, the government will do a better job of selling off the "troubled assets" it acquires than it did with the S&Ls. That story, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the current crisis, was told with amazement and amusement by correspondent Robert Krulwich in a 1991 FRONTLINE called The Great American Bailout. These excerpts from the film offer a window on what can happen when government goes on a shopping spree and then must dispose of the merchandise.

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