Final Arguments Was TARP a success or failure? It depends on who you think it was supposed to help. By Annie Lowrey Posted Friday, April 1, 2011, at 3:38 PM ET On Oct. 3, 2008, President George W. Bush signed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act into law. Just two weeks before, the investment bank Lehman Bros. had collapsed, sending the financial markets into a panic. The entire economy teetered on the brink, with bank failures, business shutdowns, and massive unemployment looming. To keep that disaster at bay, the Federal Reserve and Congress needed to fix finance first. The bill became known as the "bailout bill," and its most famous provision was the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Now, 30 months later, TARP is in the process of winding down. Depending on who's assessing it, it is either one of the most successful government responses to an economic crisis or one of the least. "It isn't often that the government launches a major program that achieves its main goals at a tiny fraction of its estimated costs. That's the story of TARP," Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson wrote this week, calling the program a "success story." Yet Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the program, wrote just the opposite in the New York Times, calling portions of the program a "colossal failure" and saying the Treasury Department refused to acknowledge or fix its mistakes. Can they both be right? To help answer that question, it helps to ask who benefited from TARP, and who was supposed to have benefited. You get no sense from its inelegant title, which promises "relief" from "troubled assets" but fails to note who that relief will be provided to. If you think the financial sector was supposed to get relief, you fall in Samuelson's camp. If you think homeowners were as well, you fall in Barofsky's. snip Better than FDR's response? Hoover? The Japanese? Bueller?