Wall Street apparently hasn't learned that you can only live beyond your means for so long.
Like a lot of people, I saddled myself with credit card debt when I was a college student. When I was 18, I apparently became an excellent credit risk. One of the megabanks offered me a Visa card. I didn't even have a job, but they gave it to me anyway. I was 18 (is there anything dumber in the world than a teenage boy?) and gladly accepted. And then I started spending. Then I got another card. You can guess how this tale evolves.
Not to air too much of my own dirty laundry, but it took a long time to get out of the debt I put myself in. And then a series of unforeseen circumstances put me in it again. And around and around it went.
I bought things I couldn't afford with money I didn't have. Then the banks had the nerve to want their money back - with interest.
Imagine that. They wanted me to pay my debts. And you know what? I did. And still do. The bills get paid.
But you know what's never happened? The federal government has never felt the urge to bail me out. No government accountant has ever shown up on my doorstep and offered to pay the Visa bill or the car note. No red, white and blue knight has ever ridden up and said, "Mr. McCullough, worry no more. Uncle Sam will take over your mortgage."
Such a thing is so ludicrous I hesitate to even write it. The government would never, ever, in 700 billion years consider helping average Americans with a financial bailout. Not real help. They offer us $300 here and $600 there under the guise of stimulating the economy, which is a fancy way of writing a big fat check out of the government coffers to pay back all the people who paid to put these criminals in office in the first place. They loan to Peter, let him pay Paul, then tax Peter.
But the feds didn't bat an eye when Wall Street asked for $700 billion when the high-risk loans they made all went bust. Not a snicker or a chuckle or a wink of an eye. All of the sudden, the idea of the government as financial savior wasn't all that ludicrous.
First they wanted an unconstitutional blank check, the spending of which was to be overseen by no one. But a bunch of representatives up for re-election realized they couldn't sign that blank check and have any hope of winning next month.
So they pretended to cry and moan about it, and let the Senators - most of whom aren't up for re-election - come up with a different version. And now I guess all those who pretended to care about the American taxpayer will go ahead and vote yes today so they can go home and campaign as the people who saved the economy.
Now what exactly is the difference between us and the banks? That's what I'd like to know.
If we don't pay, it's on us. Our responsibility.
If Wall Street goes broke, we all chip in. How do they rate that when you and I don't?
The answer, of course, is money. They have it and we don't. Or more appropriately, they had it, and now they need ours. And money is power. Our little bit, individually, doesn't even register on their power scale. That's why their "customer service" people don't lift a finger to help you.
But if you run out of money or lose your job and can't pay, well, now you're messing with their money. They depend on that to turn a profit, you deadbeat.
And don't look to Uncle Sam for help. You did it to yourself. Maybe you can declare bankruptcy. Oh wait, they passed new rules (after a lot of lobbying from the banks) to make it nearly impossible to do that anymore. I guess you'll have to get a tin can and see what the special is at the soup kitchen.
But the banks? Have to help them, and now.
They point to Monday when the stock market tanked and conveniently forget Tuesday when it went right back up again. They point to the frozen credit market, but they don't tell you that it's frozen to people and businesses with bad credit, the way it ought to be.
I'm not one of these hate-everyone-who-is-rich guys. I don't think you should be punished for success or taxed more for working harder or for being an entrepreneur. But I do despise the unethical, immoral and sometimes downright evil practices of many corporations and the people behind them. I'm not asking to be bailed out and they shouldn't be asking either. I want these people to pay the same penalties as the rest of us for making the wrong decisions.
But that won't happen, of course. Because they have all the money and thus all the influence in government and thus all power. And those folks are treated differently from us in the middle classes. Always have been, and I guess they always will be, at least until we run out of money for them to steal.
It's the same reason they get the table with the incredible view and we get to sit next to the kitchen. Why they get probation, when we get 10 years. Why they'll get $700 billion, and we'll get stuck with the bill.
It's because, as the recently deceased Jerry Reed used to sing, they got the gold mine.
And we got the shaft.
E-mail Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays.