Normal countries have governments. The United States has a bank, and it is in the business of making the oddest assortment of loans you’d find outside of the secret Enron archives. Would you like to take out a loan against 94 percent of the cash value of a life-insurance policy you’ve had for only one year? There’s a federal loan for that. Building a dormitory to house the transient laborers who bring in your peach crop in the summer? ¡Sí, se puede! There’s a federal loan for that, too, with excellent terms: 33 years at 1 percent interest. Perhaps you would like to secure financing through an “extramural clinical research loan repayment program for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.” Bank of America — the real Bank of America, Barack Obama, CEO — can hook you up.
So when President Obama announced that his next Big Idea for the economy was to take $50 billion of your hard-earned assets and use part of it to finance an “infrastructure bank” — not just a new infrastructure program, but an infrastructure bank — it was hardly an exercise in financial radicalism. Banking is what Washington does. With the exception of the actual central bank, the Fed — which is more of a hedge fund (an upside-down, Bizarro World hedge fund, whose managers pay the very highest prices for the very worst assets) — the entire federal apparatus, from the Pentagon to the USDA to the hive of haplessness that is the Department of Education, is in the banking racket. The government’s toothless loan-sharking is especially prodigious when it comes to so-called infrastructure programs, which are more accurately described as transportation programs (which are really more accurately described as highway programs).