Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, especially, apparently, the beauty of bailouts. In the U.S. right now, some see robust growth, others a limping progress. Some see unemployment edging down, others see it spiking up. It’s all about the beholder.

The U.S. Treasury is now estimating the cost of the bailout at $89 billion, considerably less than what’s been reported since the fall of 2008. The $89 billion figure fits nicely into the vision of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner who, as head of the New York Fed, was the point-man under Bush, overseeing the hand-out of dough to Wall Street.

But where Geithner sees gentle waves, New York Times business reporter Gretchen Morgenson sees tsunamis — counting it all up in the $1 trillion range. For one, there’s the cost of lending to banks at near zero interest rate set that against what banks charge us — which is to say an average 14% on credit cards — and what they pay back in interest to depositors — far too little, most of us think.

Morgenson points to FDIC losses in taking over failed banks, including loss-sharing costs shouldered by taxpayers. That she puts at $400 billion. Against that, Geithner’s $89 billion starts to fade fast.

There’s just one more thing left out of Geithner’s figures: implied government guarantees; what one bank analyst calls the "noxious byproduct" of systemic risk. A "deliberate low-balling that underestimates damage to the wider economy," that analyst observed, obscures $4 trillion in lost output globally, losses that can be permanent or persistent, in his words. So take your pick — gentle waves or a global tsunami. Feel better yet?

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at and Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on