One legacy of the release of the Federal Reserve’s bailout data was the triumph of a single person over the most powerful bank in the world.
Bloomberg News’s Mark Pittman, a hulking former cop reporter from Kansas with equal love for spreadsheets and beer chasers, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Fed in May 2008. He asked for details of the emergency-lending programs that were then just under way. It’s the taxpayers’ money, Pittman argued. They ought to know where it’s going.
The Fed resisted, and along with a group of the biggest U.S. banks called Clearing House Association LLC, waged a legal battle that in March 2011 reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to rule against lower courts that ordered the release.
Pittman wasn’t around to celebrate. He died on Nov. 25, 2009, at the age of 52.
Pittman had a favorite joke he’d tell about the bailouts, which he believed were futile because by preserving the status quo they presumed that, without incentive to change, things would be different next time. Bankers would be prudent, regulators would be firm and the public good would be served.
It went like this: A guy borrows money from a loan shark. When he doesn’t pay up, two goons visit him one evening at home, where he’s eating dinner with his wife.
“Give me one more day,” the guy tells the debt collectors. “I have a dog that talks, and tomorrow I’m going to make a bunch of money from my talking dog.”
The goons accept this, vowing to return for the money the next evening.
After they leave, the guy’s wife looks at him like he’s nuts.
“What will you do when they come back?” she asks her husband.
The guy shrugs and says, “Maybe tomorrow the dog will talk.”