There's a lot of complaining about how the banks have gotten billions of dollars in taxpayer aid, but lending is still sluggish. People want to know what exactly the banks are doing with all that money.
It's a fair question. But it's legitimately hard to answer.
Say my parents give my wife and me a $50 check for our anniversary. Inevitably I sit down to write a thank-you note and want to explain how I spent it. And I never really know. I threw it in the checking account. So maybe it went to fix the muffler on the car. Maybe I used it when we went out to dinner the other week. Maybe it paid part of the rent, or maybe I'll use it to pay our taxes.
Occasionally I do know how we spent the money. Because we'll want to do something, but think it's too expensive, and I'll remember "Oh! But we got that check from mom and dad!" And then we'll go do it.
But this is the bind the banks are in. It's a hard question to answer definitively.
The problem comes up in economics all the time though. People say the stimulus plan will create two or three million new jobs. But no one really knows how many jobs there would be without the stimulus.
The bank CEO's defended themselves yesterday. Listen here, analysis here.
Here's what Citigroup says it's done with the TARP money.