Paying the piper because nothing’s free

If you’re feeling angry right now, join the club.

The bailout of the ailing financial institutions in this country has prompted some justifiable outrage among the masses of hard-working, fiscally responsible citizens who still exist in the United States.

While President Bush and other government leaders, as well as outspoken CNN hosts, berated congressional representatives for not rushing to do the deed after the House balked at the first bailout proposal, the rest of us were left to ponder why we have to keep the economy on top of the water by giving the loan institutions a cash transfusion to preserve them and their clients from experiencing what happens to most of us when we spend more than we should.

Of course, after people realized that not bailing out the banks was going to hurt too, public opinion changed and Congress got the message, quickly passing a $700 billion bailout plan that President Bush signed on Friday. The deal, that’s likely going to cost our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, was sweetened with a lot of pork, including $100 billion in tax breaks and a four-year, $3.3 billion extension of timber payments to rural counties, including ours.

Our own Congressman Pete DeFazio, who opposed the bailout plan, though he is a vocal advocate of continuing the payments, called the spade a spade when he termed the bailout bill “fundamentally flawed” and the timber payments “lipstick on a pig.”

Yes, the whole thing stinks. But can we simply blame our government for this? Not really, because we Americans have helped create this monster.

Like a lot of situations that make our blood boil, this one is complex. The answers are not simple and none are going to feel good. Not bailing out the ailing financial institutions meant we would risk a nasty collapse in our economy, we were told. Bailing them out means we all pay yet another massive bill that will be added to what our kids and grandkids already will be shelling out to finance the war in Iraq and other Bush Administration spending sprees.

The key issue is responsibility.

A few years ago, particularly in places like California, where three-bedroom, two-bath houses were selling for over half a million dollars, the lack of that quality in both lenders and borrowers was painfully evident. The problem was, the average family, making average wages, couldn’t afford those prices. But here they were, merrily signing up for all kinds of no-money-down, borrow-today-pay-tomorrow loans that were certain financial deathtraps as soon as the economy took a dive.

It’s perfectly understandable that people want to own their home. It’s usually a very good investment. But the lack of prudence in spending and borrowing that pervades our culture clearly extended to homebuyers in most of those deals. Now, in those regular, middle-class, tract-home neighborhoods, homes are vacant, with “For Sale” signs. Foreclosures. People who got in over their heads.

The realities of our economic situation are extremely complicated and most of us can do little more than understand the basics. But the fact that we’ve reached this point should come as no surprise. The same reckless gambling spirit that took our economy down in 1929, triggering the Great Depression, has been growing in recent years.

It’s evident in the way we spend money.

Credit card abuse is rampant because too many people are incapable of, or refuse to, live within their means. Most of us are so caught up in the consumer society we live in that we have to have the latest and greatest of whatever it is that suits our fancy: cars, boats, clothing, jewelry, electronics, hunting equipment, ATVs – you name it.

It’s also evident in the way many of the banks that are now on the ropes have been doing business. They know what we consumers want and they will provide it, even at some risk to themselves, because they see a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Problem is, the rainbow has dissolved and economic storm clouds are gathering fast.

It’s no doubt tiresome to hear the lone voices in the wilderness crying about the increasing socialism in the United States. A nation that really did emphasize individual rights and initiative early on has been swallowed up in a wave of entitlement dependence, with a focus on making sure people who don’t have the wherewithal to buy cars, homes, healthcare, education and other goods and services will get it – from those who do.

The United States has always had its weaknesses, but it has generally been a fairly benevolent nation.

The Judeo-Christian perspec-tives of many of our forefathers, two or three centuries ago, no doubt have contributed to that over the years. We try to help the helpless, here and abroad, while other nations kick them to the curb.

But that benevolence has backfired because our government has assumed the role of delivering it to the masses.

It’s backfiring now. It’s not possible to have a healthy economy that’s based on people who are fiscally responsible supporting those who aren’t.

That’s exactly where we are today. And we’re sick.