General Motors CEO Ed Whitacre has bragged in TV commercials and newspaper columns that GM has paid back its bailout "in full and ahead of schedule."
As with the Pontiac Aztek, an ugly exterior masks an ever darker problem: Whitacre is being fanciful to the point of deceit. GM received $50 billion in TARP funds (never mind that TARP was only supposed to cover financial institutions). About $7 billion of that came in the form of a straight-up, low-interest loan. And about $13 billion came in the form of an escrow account.
So how has GM, which lost $38 billion in 2007 even as it sold 9.4 million cars, paid back its debt? It took money from the escrow account to pay back the $6.7 billion loan.
Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents gave you $20 to buy them a Christmas present? You bought them something worth $3 and pocketed the rest? That's what GM has just done.
Oh, and do you remember when you hit your parents up for college? GM has applied for a $10 billion, low-interest loan from the government to modernize its plants so its cars will meet new federal mileage standards.
If you think all this constitutes paying back their debt in full and ahead of schedule, you might want to check out the new line of GM cars. And hope that the company's safety engineers are better at math than their CEO.