With what looks like imminent passage of the Mother of All Bailouts (following on the heels of a year's worth of government-funded rescues of private homeowners, lenders, insurers and automakers), Washington has turned Aesop's famous fable about prudence and hard work on its head. The time is ripe for a revised 2008 edition of "The Ant and the Grasshopper:"
In a meadow on a hot summer's day, a Grasshopper was chirping and carousing his time away. He watched scornfully as an Ant nearby struggled to store up large kernels of food and build a secure nest. The Ant pulled overtime shifts to pay off his loans and accumulate retirement funds for the future.
"Give it a rest," the Grasshopper said. "Why bother saving and slaving and toiling and moiling? Let's party!" The Ant demurred: "I am planning ahead for winter, and you should do the same." The Grasshopper blew off the Ant, squandered his supplies the rest of the season and abandoned his home while on vacation (paid for by tapping every last cent of his home equity gain) instead of holding down a job.
When winter came, the Grasshopper's pantry was empty, and his shelter ruined from neglect. The Ant, weary from planting, harvesting, and stocking up for months, was dining comfortably in his nest.
Cold, hungry, jobless, facing foreclosure and up to his two pairs of eyeballs in debt, the Grasshopper limped to the Association of Community Winged Insects for Rescue Now and demanded recourse. The office was swamped with thousands just like him. ACWIRN immediately put the Grasshopper to work registering dead ants as new voters.
Funded with tax dollars from the rest of the meadow's residents, ACWIRN organized mass protests at the Bank of Antamerica, ambushed its top officials at their private homes, harassed their children and demanded that the meadow's politicians halt all foreclosures ("We must keep Grasshoppers in their houses!") and outlaw discriminatory lending practices against starving, homeless Grasshoppers ("Well-stocked shelters are basic insect rights!")
The banking industry capitulated; the Orthoptera Lobby secured hundreds of millions of dollars in housing earmarks, grants and counseling subsidies to support the Grasshoppers with the shadiest credit and employment histories. Antie Mae, the meadow's government-backed home lending giant, fueled the push for increased insect homeownership in the name of biodiversity. Its executives cooked the books and headed for the hills. Katie Cricket and the Mainstream Meadow Media joined the grievance-for-profit circus, profiling Grasshopper sob stories and drumming up ratings as bewildered Ants wondered who was looking out for them.
The banks drowned in toxic debt. More Grasshoppers fell behind on their mortgage payments. Bailout mania and panic gripped the meadow.
Our little Ant, minding his own business, heard a knock on his door one late winter night a year later. It was his old, sneering Grasshopper neighbor. With ACWIRN's presidential candidate, Barack Cicada, now in office, the Grasshopper had been hired by the meadow as a tax collector.
"I'm here to take your provisions," the Grasshopper cackled.
But it was the Ant who had the last laugh. "I've learned my lesson," he told his shiftless friend. "Why bother saving and slaving and toiling and moiling? I've spent all my savings. I'm walking away from my mortgage. Thrift is for suckers," the Ant said as he headed out the door, leaving the Grasshopper empty-handed.