Today's Outrage is published weekdays at 9:30 a.m. EDT and is available as an RSS feed.I don't get it. I don't understand the blatant contradiction between the Obama administration's clear desire to dismantle large, systemically risky financial institutions and the talks by AIG to sell its sizable foreign life insurance unit to MetLife. MetLife ( MET) is already the largest U.S. life insurer and AIG's American Life Insurance unit, aka Alico, operates in more than 50 countries outside the U.S. and may be worth between $11 billion and $20 billion, depending on whether you ask AIG or MetLife. While that may help the Obama team dismantle AIG, it sounds like the exact opposite of dismantling for MetLife. Considering that AIG is controlled by the government, this whole on-again, off-again thing between these two insurers seems pointless. Didn't anyone over there get the memo that Obama doesn't like big financial companies? I'd love to believe that AIG officials and MetLife management are just being defiant and exercising their rights in a free market, but that's too bold for an industry on the ropes. So it begs the question: how does Obama define "too big"? Maybe if the Alico unit is sold in a fire sale - because apparently no one but MetLife is showing any interest - it won't seem so big in the end.
This also may be an acknowledgement that the previously discussed plan for an IPO may not bring in much cash either - how much will investors be willing to pay in the current depressed market for a unit of the most disgraced insurer on the planet? One conclusion is that the contradiction between political policy and the government's actions reveals how urgently the administration would like to start seeing AIG repay some of the $80 billion in taxpayer loans. That's actually the most legitimate of the government's motives. Frankly, the whole business of rewriting the rules of capitalism and law of free markets seems like overkill.