11 August 2014

John Oliver on the US Payday Loans Industry

"Are there no prisons?"
"Plenty of prisons..."
"And the Union workhouses." demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"Both very busy, sir..."
"Those who are badly off must go there."
"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Usury is the practice of making unethical or immoral monetary loans intended to unfairly enrich the lender on the desperation or misfortune of others. (cf. unethically high drug charges promoted by patent protection).  A loan may be considered usurious because of excessive or abusive interest rates or other factors.  Someone who charges usury can be called an usurer, but the more common term in English is loan shark.

This video by John Oliver below discusses the payday loan industry in the US, which is remarkable even by today's lax moral standards when it comes to financial matters.

If not for the corruption of big money, outlandish fees from banks and usurious rates of interest from private financial companies could be stopped, and quickly.

Part of the problem is the attraction that some in the US have with the romantic notion of naturally good 'free markets' unencumbered by the means of protecting the weak and desperate from the stronger and unscrupulous.

People are not naturally good nor perfectly rational in all their affairs. And just because someone wears a suit and carries a pen and a high powered law firm instead of a gun does not mean that they are not a criminal in the truest sense of the word.

And the manner in which we are continually given corporations higher regard, more privileges, and more and more power over the individual is a sickness of our souls.  It is a portion of the worship of money and power above all else.

But Jesse, who is to say what the appropriate level of interest should be?

We have appointed regulators to do so, and there are certainly people more qualified as subject matter experts to do it.

But I would certainly tend to favor a Federal law that stipulates that no loan can charge more than 20 percent in annualized interest and fees in any 365 day period, or 1000 basis points over the Fed funds rate, whichever is higher, for any loan for any consumer loan as defined by the Consumer Protection Bureau.

And as for "States Rights" to do whatever they please, one could justify the minimal protection provided to the people among the various states under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. If the corruption in a state authorized murder, slavery, child prostitution, drug addiction, mercy killings, sterilization, or torture, we would certainly not hesitate to assert the priority of the Bill of Rights for all citizens no matter where they lived.

Just because it is money that is involved does not mean that the injustice cannot be as serious an abuse to the public interest, to an individual or a family, even though one can assert that no one made them take the loan, or buy the drugs, or born handicapped, or fallen gravely ill. Public policy need to reflect the moral principles of a people at their most fundamental levels, or the government has no legitimate claim to be founded of, by, or for the people.