“Eskom is too big to fail”. This is one of the catchiest headlines and bottom-line analyses of 2019. It is the effective message behind finance minister Tito Mboweni’s earmarked R69bn Eskom bailout. The phrase “bailout” trended globally during the US-led financial crisis of 2008, putting dollar signs in bureaucrats’ eyes. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (Tarp) “bailed out” ventures with toxic assets through purchases of about $411bn. By the end of 2014, Tarp had almost totally unwound its position with a profit, for the fiscus, of $15.6bn. That is about equal to Eskom’s total revenue. In addition, US taxpayers bailed out the key SOEs (technically government sponsored enterprises) at the heart of the crisis, lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But the US fiscus made a profit there, too, of just under $40bn in the first six years. Combined, the Fannie-Freddie and Tarp bailout profits to the US fiscus approached the total value of Eskom’s assets at roughly $60bn. Total bailout windfa...

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