More "Venture Socialism"

Over the weekend Jazz Shaw asked at, "Is It Time to Ditch the Ex-Im Bank?"

Keep reading! We're talking about another example of government picking winners and losers.
Shaw was responding to an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal (appended below) about the quasi-governmental agency that uses taxpayer guarantees to finance purchases by foreign customers of U.S. companies … often to the disadvantage of other U.S. companies. 

John Ruberry minces no words when he writes, "Kill the Export-Import Bank."  

Ben Howe at has also written extensively on the issue.  For further background, you may want to read, "Why is the Federal Government Financing Our Foreign Competition?" 

I hope you will consider writing on this issue or perhaps sharing the Journal's editorial on your various social media channels.


The Export Subsidy Boomerang


March 2, 2012

The Wall Street Journal

If you thought Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Solyndra would teach Congress a lesson about politicized credit, think again. The federal Export-Import Bank is up for reauthorization, and the only question seems to be how much more taxpayer money Washington wants to put at risk. If the GOP wants to have a principled battle about fiscal waste and market distortions, this is a good one.

The ExIm Bank—founded in 1934 to support trade with the Soviet Union, but never mind—provides taxpayer-backed loan guarantees and other services to U.S. business, especially big exporters. The bank's renewable charter expired on September 30 and Congress has kept it alive through temporary spending bills.

Business lobbies claim the country can't afford to let the bank expire or—gasp—private banks like Citigroup and J.P. Morgan would have to do more trade financing. California Republican Gary Miller, supported by fellow Republican Spencer Bachus, Democrat Barney Frank and others, has a bill pending in the House to prolong the bank's life through 2015 and raise its lending cap to $160 billion from $100 billion. The House Financial Services Committee waved the bill through in a voice vote last year and it's likely to get a floor vote this month.

The issue deserves more public scrutiny, starting with the bank's mission. ExIm says it takes risks that private lenders are "unable or unwilling" to take. But in today's global capital markets, there are very few places (North Korea) where private banks are unable to function, which raises the question of why taxpayers should bear risks that private banks are unwilling to take. At the same time, ExIm also paints itself as a low-risk enterprise. It can't be both.

ExIm's defenders note it has returned money to the Treasury since 2008 and has a less than 2% historical default rate. But ExIm is essentially adopting the same strategy as the Federal Housing Administration: expanding its business, raking in more revenues and proclaiming that it's therefore lower-risk.

ExIm had a record year in 2011, doling out $32.7 billion in loans, guarantees and insurance. That's up from $24.5 billion in 2010 and $12.6 billion in 2007. Meanwhile, loss reserves have declined to $4.1 billion from $5.1 billion in 2010, or to 4.6% from 6.8% of total exposure.

The bigger issue is that the bank by its nature helps some companies at the expense of others. ExIm, for instance, helped its biggest client—Boeing—win airplane contracts in 2011 from Air China, Air India, Cathay Pacific and others. That's great for Boeing, which accounted for 45.6%, or $40.7 billion, of ExIm's total exposure in fiscal 2011.

But this subsidy means that foreign airlines can then buy newer aircraft more cheaply than their U.S. competitors. This gives them an advantage in the global air transportation market. In a letter to Congress last month, Delta estimated that ExIm cost the U.S. airline industry up to 7,500 jobs and $684 million a year.

ExIm Bank supporters play the patriotism card by suggesting that export subsidies help U.S. companies at the expense of foreigners, but in this case it helps foreign companies at the expense of American airlines.

ExIm distorts markets in other industries, too. The bank has an environmental export financing program that has backed the likes of Solyndra, First Solar and Abound Solar. Think about that: The Department of Energy's loan program provided the start-up capital for those companies, and ExIm Bank provided financing for their customers. Solyndra is now bankrupt, Abound Solar has halted production and First Solar is struggling.

ExIm also has initiatives for medical equipment manufacturers, exporters to sub-Saharan Africa and small to medium-sized business. These programs are designed to broaden ExIm's political support in Congress, so the bank doesn't appear to help only the likes of Boeing. But this is another problem with political financing—once someone has it, everyone wants in. Before you know it, taxpayers are financing everyone's exports.

ExIm tries to lash itself to improving export figures, but the bank doesn't move the needle much. U.S. goods and services exports last year totaled $2.1 trillion, of which ExIm's contribution is negligible.

The way to fight subsidies provided by other countries is through diplomacy and new trade deals, not by imitating their subsidies. The way to help U.S. exports is to reduce the tax, regulatory and lawsuit burden on business, negotiate new market opening abroad, and reduce American energy costs. That's what business should be lobbying for, not favors for some businesses over others.