Bailout Booth offers money, self-abasement


, an online ad site, recently took its service to the streets, encouraging passers-by in numerous cities to tell their tales of woe in exchange for cold, hard cash. Installed in prominent public areas, like in D.C.'s Union Station on Wednesday, the booth's occupant, "Bailout Bill," listens to visitors and gives them between $50 and $5,000, depending on their level of need and ability to tug his misery-weathered heart strings.

The idea of trading sob stories for money is hardly a new thing. For hundreds of years, begging has been a lucrative profession; in fact, in 19th century France, there were schools for beggars and surgeons who specialized in scarring healthy patients, the better to inspire pity. In Argentina, the Eva Peron foundation even made begging the basis for the country's social welfare work. In the 1950's, game shows like Queen for a Day and Strike It Rich encouraged contestants to, essentially, beg for money. Both shows were very popular and ran for years, demonstrating that listening to the miseries of others can make people feel better about their own lives.