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There’s this notion going around that tough times will reveal the true character of America. It’s a good bit of marketing and satisfies our desire for myth. But it’s baloney.

When you’re backed up against a wall, you learn one thing: people have a keen sense of survival and a knack for self-preservation. It’s those other times that show us what we’re made of, like those times everyone thought they could get rich buying and selling tech stocks  houses  oil futures hope?

I guess Bush will take the blame from a lot of people. But whatever else he did, he didn’t force anyone to take on a mortgage they couldn’t afford.

But didn’t he and his cronies create the climate that made all those criminal excesses possible? I suppose they might bear some responsibility, but people have to take their share of the blame occassionally.

We get the leaders that serve up what we want to believe, and we very badly wanted to believe in everlasting wealth.

It doesn’t mean we still can’t become Treasury Secretary some day, even if it means a come-down in pay.

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Set your hypocrisy radars on high alert. Just don’t expect anyone to reconcile the AIG bailout with the values of a government supposedly in thrall to the belief that the market is the ultimate arbiter of all that is good and true.

As we’re learning, the market can dish out some ugliness, too. But is it really a new lesson? Not for the workers who used to make Ford minivans. Or the workers that used to make toys, lawn mowers and televisions. Nor is the market’s ability to inflict pain news to anyone who has to fill up a gas tank or pay for their own health insurance.

But in all of those cases, we let the market do its work, or at least profess faith in its ability to do so over the long run – if, for example, we could clear out those silly government bans on offshore drilling. But when you’re an investment bank or an international insurance company, I guess drill, baby,  drill – or retrain, baby, retrain – isn’t the answer. The answer is a multi-billion-dollar loan.

I laughed when morning news anchors on CNN lamented AIG’s interest rate of 11.5%, calling it high and an incentive for the company to look elsewhere. Funny, but I don’t recall any journalists wringing their hands over the rates charged to people with credit cards (20%-plus) or the rates charged to subprime borrowers.

Seems to me, if your business is a credit risk and teetering on the edge of collapse, you should pay higher rates. No lender throws good money after bad at a low rate. Well, not anymore, anyway.

Another ridiculous argument in all this is the claim that the collapse of AIG would lead to higher borrowing costs. Higher costs for whom? Certainly not for people buying cars and houses, the two major purchases for most consumers.

The automakers would go lower than 0% if they could and I don’t see that changing – unless they get a bailout of their own. The same incentives apply to housing. If rates rise, home prices likely will fall, making them more affordable in the long run, not exactly the worst news in the world.

Yes, it sucks if you already have a house and the value falls or simply doesn’t go up year after year. But look on the bright side. You own a house. And now you own an insurance company, or at least a 79.5% stake in one. I can’t wait for my first dividend check.

The fact that we’re having a debate about financial regulation hints at the outcome: little to none. Regulation stands a chance only when a lot of people see the need (this is why President Nixon — Nixon — oversaw creation of the Environmental Protection Agency). I don’t think we’re going to see a popular groundswell in this particular instance.

Yes, a lot of people are losing their homes. Yes, investment banks and mortgage brokers were greedy and foolish in the risks they took. But most Americans know the financial system isn’t entirely to blame. They know they’ve been all too willing to live beyond their means — and they’re not blind to the consequences. Still, any regulation that curbs our ability to have more than we can afford — credit scores be damned — doesn’t stand a chance.

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