Most Americans have lived their lives in blissful ignorance of the Export-Import Bank, founded under Franklin Roosevelt and still based in Washington D.C.
But people in international commerce have relied upon its backstop and confidence-building role for decades. Customers making multi-year, multi-billion-dollar purchases have preferred the idea that governments are also standing behind the deal, even when the world’s biggest corporations are involved.
That all changed this summer, when a rump group of Tea Party Republicans plus some allies on the left (notably including, to his discredit, Bernie Sanders) succeeded in blocking the previously uncontroversial reauthorization of Exim. The notes collected on this page go into the ramifications of this move. The Exim bank can still administer its old loans but not issue any new ones. Here’s how its homepage looks now:
Why does this matter? To repeat the point, since it’s left out of so many public discussions, it’s because high-stakes, big-ticket international commerce often depends on governments backing or at least blessing the deals. We’re talking about the billion-dollar sales of large numbers of aircraft; about years-long programs to build power plants or transport systems; about deals that are enormously consequential from both the buyer’s and the seller’s perspective, and where they foreign purchases are often governments (or government-related) themselves.
The ExIm Bank actually makes money for the U.S. government, rather than costing money. For students in Ec 101, this might suggest that some private bank could just step in to fill the gap. But, again, in the real world, purchasers in Europe or China or Latin America or the Emirates want to know that the U.S. government is standing behind the transaction. That is How The World Works.
The ExIm’s opponents can’t be bothered with any of this, because they think that in theory companies “shouldn’t” need ExIm’s help. And they shouldn’t. But they do. Thus we have what I described yesterday as a drive toward the failed state, in which basic functions of governance are undone. Below are more real-world accounts of the damage such zealotry is doing.