Trade

Can GM Ever Pay Us Back?

Fritz Henderson

GM chief Fritz Henderson says it's complicated. Philippe Lopez / AFP/Getty ImagesGetty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Philippe Lopez / AFP/Getty ImagesGetty Images

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On today's Planet Money:

Since the start of the financial crisis, the U.S. government has put $50 billion into General Motors. After GM emerged from bankruptcy this year, the public owned 61 percent of the stock of the newly reconstituted company.

How much of that $50 billion will the American taxpayer get back? CEO Fritz Henderson says business at GM is getting better, which is at least a hopeful sign for repayment. But the situation at GM is so complicated, Henderson says, that he can't say yet how much money GM will be able to return to the public coffers.

Longtime auto analyst John Casesa has crunched the numbers we have. He says GM would have to do everything right, in a strong economy, to pay back what it owes.

Meanwhile, a Congressional Oversight Panel report says the government estimates it will get back less than half the money it used to bail out GM and Chrysler.

Bonus: After the jump, the trashing of the commons.

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Ali Leipsiger writes from the Brown School of Social Work:

I really enjoyed the interview with Elinor Ostrom. I am no economist but I am a grad student at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and I am taking two classes this semester where the Tragedy of the Commons has been particularly relevant (Economics of Social Welfare and Social&Economic Development Policy) so I've enjoyed hearing her take on it — by the way, a lot of us in Social Work appreciate this sort of "community-based problem solving" stance.

But what is more interesting is that last year we, in the Brown School of Social Work, had our own Tragedy of the Commons. We even called it that as a marketing scheme to change behavior. The school has two buildings and on the first floor of one is an area with a coffee shop, chairs and tables, a communal kitchen that we call the Commons. As last school year progressed, people were more inclined to leave their dirty dishes in the sink, leave their garbage on the tables and chairs, and even steal food from the communal fridge (which prompted some very nasty emails and posters about food insecurity/eating disorders). So a group of people got together and started talking about the "Tragedy of the Commons."

To be honest, I don't think anything ever came of it — there certainly aren't different rules this year. But what was interesting was that last year things didn't get worse or even stay the same even though additional rules weren't enforced. The condition of the Commons improved simply because (I think) people were being called on their behavior. So... not so tragic, right? I'm very interested to see if the state of the Commons deteriorates as this year progresses and if it does if we'll have another "Tragedy of the Commons."

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