What started out as a mortgage crisis, a prolonged period of lending to too many people for too big a house for too little up front money, has now taken on a much more expansive and critical magnitude.
We are now being told the real problem with the economy is the availability of credit or more discreetly the credit markets.
Absolutely correct! What a revelation!
There has been far too much credit, credit made far too easily available and credit far too zealously promoted for nearly as far back as I can remember. The aggressiveness with which banks and credit card companies (one and the same) have promoted the availability of consumer credit is legendary, has been the butt of jokes and has in fact made our economy a laughing stock where credit is considered somewhat of a privilege rather than an entitlement.
“Low or no downpayments,” “low monthly payments,” “no interest” for six or 12 or 18 months or longer, “bad credit — no problem” “no credit checks,” “no job — no problem” are all common enticements used to market to prospective customers who probably have credit they don’t need, don’t deserve or cannot afford in the first place. In fact we have all seen the over the top “Been Bankrupt - No Problem” advertisement. It would appear that bankruptcy is in fact a badge of courage that entitles one to benefits that bankruptcy implies have gone away. Trucks full of junk mail offering credit card accounts have flowed to college students, recently bankrupt households and other marginally high risk prospects…until now.
The Constitution may as well read that we are entitled to “life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and unlimited credit.” In fact the Constitution stopped short of making that blanket guarantee for a reason. There are people who can’t afford credit, can’t manage credit and do not deserve credit. Unfortunately, the issuers of credit, salved by the prospects of egregiously usurious profits lost sight of the discrepancy between those deserving of credit and those not so deserving. The cumulative result of irresponsible lending policy, irresponsible use of credit and the absence of any regulatory oversight of both lenders and consumers has us in the rotten kettle of fish we now find ourselves.
Handling the situation spawned by past behavior is at a point of being almost incomprehensible by one with even average intelligence. There are a couple of suggestions, however, that would seem pretty basic going forward.
First, on the part of consumers, other than a car, a house or perhaps a medical emergency, if you can’t pay for it in 30 days you can’t afford it.
That’s plain, simple, responsible fiscal policy. No Harvard MBA required.
Secondly, interest rates and lending conditions for consumer lending need regulated ceilings and parameters. The financial services industry has once again proven not capable of self regulation. Motivated solely by the prospects of speculative profits they have made available too much credit to too many people with too little likelihood of repayment.
Though I usually condone the buyer beware philosophy, government has a role in protecting the greater good. Our leaders have at least temporarily abdicated that role while acquiescing to the duress of lobbyists for the banking and financial services industry. Bank and financial service industry failures to maintain adequate cash reserves to meet calls on responsibilities is simply basic fiscal irresponsibility.
Third, government has no business in the bank bailout business. Bankers solicit deposits for the express purpose of lending those dollars at profitable interest rates. Government’s role needs to stop at protection of the depositers. Bad loans made by solacious lenders need to result in failed banks… not bailed out banks. The Richard Fulds of the world belong in prison, not collectiong and enjoying $300 million compensation packages amassed while running a big bank into the ground. No Harvard MBA required here.
Finally, I would like to see widespread discounts for cash payment at the time of purchase. I get rebates from credit cards, luggage to open new accounts, coupons and incentives of all kinds to go deeper in the hole. I want restaurants to offer discounts for cash payment rather than tacking on the credit card fees to my cost of a BLT and iced tea. If I buy a new suit or shirt, why not give me a discount to give you real green money instead of tacking on a surcharge for plastic. If you advertise “DISCOUNTS FOR CASH,” and prove you will deliver it, I will become your customer provided you are selling what I want or need.
No Harvard MBA required.
John Kliebenstein is circulation and operations manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Tuesdays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.