The cliché: "Heads I win tails you lose," is an old game of rigged odds, but it has been getting a lot of play among this week's opinion writers, concerned as they are with the state of our financial industry. Last week, Huffington Post columnist Raymond Learsy wrote, "We as citizens, no longer feel able, through our elected officials, to stem the influence, the systematic 'Heads I win, Tails you lose' of our financial institutions." Then, in a column posted yesterday, The Washington Post's Roger Cohen wrote about Citigroup's recent settlement saying, "It was so certain that the investments were the financial equivalent of my used car that it bet against them -- heads I win, tails you lose." And in today's New York Times, Joe Nocera writes that Jon Corzine's $12 million severance fee with MF Global shows "the extent to which 'heads-I-win-tails-you-lose' remains the operative concept for Wall Street compensation."
Where it's from: The helpful people at firstmention.com have found references to the phrase as early as 1802 in the Congressional Record. It's a way of saying, "I win, no matter what," while trying to trick someone into thinking they are getting a fair deal. Thus, it's long existed as an occasional metaphor for a confusing financial system that seems to guarantee success for the executives that run it as well as a metaphor for a range of other "rigged" systems from the NFL to liberal logic. But the 2008 crash really bumped up the repeated references, with critics of Wall Street like Andrew Cuomo, Barack Obama, Paul Krugman, and Ben Stein making prominent use of the phrase to discuss the roots of the crisis.