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Legal Dictionary

bailout

Definition of bailout

Alternative forms

  • bail-out

Etymology

Pronunciation

  • (US) IPA: /ˈbeɪlˌawt/

Noun

bailout (plural bailouts)

  1. a rescue, especially a financial rescue

    The government bailout of that corporation is going to cost the taxpayers a hundred billion dollars.

Related terms

Further reading

In economics, a bailout is an act of loaning or giving capital to an entity (a company, a country, or an individual) that is in danger of failing, in an attempt to save it from bankruptcy, insolvency, or total liquidation and ruin; or to allow a failing entity to fail gracefully without spreading contagion.

Overview

A bailout could be done for mere profit, as when a predatory investor resurrects a floundering company by buying its shares at fire-sale prices; for social improvement, as when, hypothetically speaking, a wealthy philanthropist reinvents an unprofitable fast food company into a non-profit food distribution network; or the bailout of a company might be seen as a necessity in order to prevent greater, socioeconomic failures: For example, the US government assumes transportation to be the backbone of America's general economic fluency, which maintains the nation's geopolitical power. As such, it is the policy of the US government to protect the biggest American companies responsible for transportation-airliners, petrol companies, etc.-from failure through subsidies and low-interest loans. These companies, among others, are deemed "too big to fail" because their goods and services are considered by the government to be constant universal necessities in maintaining the nation's welfare and often, indirectly, its security.

Emergency-type government bailouts can be controversial. Debates raged in 2008 over if and how to bailout the failing auto industry in the United States. Those against it, like pro-free market radio personality Hugh Hewitt, saw this bailout as an unacceptable passing-of-the-buck to taxpayers. He denounced any bailout for the Big Three, arguing that mismanagement caused the companies to fail, and they now deserve to be dismantled organically by the free-market forces so that entrepreneurs may arise from the ashes; that the bailout signals lower business standards for giant companies by incentivizing risk, creating moral hazard through the assurance of safety nets (that others will pay for) that ought not be, but unfortunately are, considered in business equations; and that a bailout promotes centralized bureaucracy by allowing government powers to choose the terms of the bailout. Others, such as economist Jeffrey Sachs have characterized this particular bailout as a necessary evil and have argued that the probable incompetence in management of the car companies is insufficient reason to let them fail completely and risk disturbing the (current) delicate economic state of the United States, since up to three million jobs rest on the solvency of the Big Three and things are bleak enough as it is. In any case, the bones of contention here can be generalized to represent the issues at large, namely the virtues of private enterprise versus those of central planning, and the dangers of a free market's volatility versus the dangers of socialist bureaucracy.

Furthermore, government bailouts are criticized as corporate welfare which encourages corporate irresponsibility.

Governments around the world have bailed out their nations' businesses with some frequency since the early 20th century. In general, the needs of the entity/entities bailed out are subordinate to the needs of the state.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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