Where does the $700 billion figure in the bail-out plans come from?

We now have a confession:

In fact, some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.

“It’s not based on any particular data point,” a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. “We just wanted to choose a really large number.”

This is supposed to be a loan, as in we’re not supposed to be taking $700 billion from tax-payers, lighting it on fire, and doing an angry monkey dance around the ashes while chanting and genuflecting to icons of Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke.  We’re supposed to get that money back with interest at some point.  That said, when asking for a huge amount of dollars, you should be able to say where those dollars are going and how you came up with that figure.  “We just wanted to choose a really large number,” is perhaps the worst possible explanation you could give.  Saying nothing at all would have been better, at least from a PR point of view, because while everyone might suspect you’re a jackass, they wouldn’t know for sure.

Why would the Treasury pull such a huge number out of their hats?  I found James Madison hiding in a long-lost corner of the internet and asked him.  He said:

You will understand the game behind the curtain too well not to perceive the old trick of turning every contingency into a resource for accumulating force in the government.

Then he tried to sell me a magnet.

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