For some of my long-suffering readers, it may seem like I'm beating this theme to death:
Personal responsibility: good.
However, as a nation - and even as evangelicals - we don't seem to be getting it, do we?
What is the point at which the greed pro-business activists think is so necessary to capitalism becomes undesirable? Could it be when its perpetrated by the very classes of people off of which a society’s elite is trying to make their money?
In other words, when bankers act in greedy fashion and blur the standards for morality, conservatives consider that a good thing; but when their customers do it, greed suddenly becomes egregious.
Banking on Bankers Behaving Badly
When banks decided the time had come to bust loose from convention and shake free from the last vestiges of low-profit honesty, Wall Street – no stranger to cooked books – stood all too ready to help. Like wolves salivating for meat, capitalism’s laziest profiteers came up with one of their best stunts yet: packaging sub-prime mortgages with golden bows and hollow statistics they knew eager investors would take at face value.
Before anybody caught on to the con, the people responsible for starting it all would be buried so deep in other people’s money that no proof connecting them to a crime would be found. Sure, they came up with some amazingly complex financial “instruments” and wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if credit-challenged social climbers didn’t buy in to the charade, but the chutzpah celebrated by masterminds of our current mortgage meltdown assumed that they were in control.
So now that homebuyers who suddenly find themselves upside-down in their mortgages have simply stopped paying, who’s howling now? You guessed it: the pack of wolves who didn’t think they’d be left holding the bag: the banks. What an outrage to think that the people we duped are turning the table on us! Isn’t there any personal integrity left in this country?
Well, maybe the banks and capitalist wonks aren’t saying this out loud, but they’re thinking it, aren’t they? And they would have a case, too, if it wasn’t for the fact that their whole business model recently has been built on making other people poor.
You don’t believe me, do you?
The Free Money Call
Last week, a perky young woman representing Bank of America called my aunt in Brooklyn, New York. My father's sister is a proud octogenarian who worked into her seventies and has refused to move out of her dangerous neighborhood because her apartment is already paid for.
This friendly caller wanted to “give” my aunt a "bonus" of $500 just for joining a new rewards program at B of A.
“What’s the catch?” my aunt asked suspiciously.
“Oh, no catch at all,” the smooth-talking young woman cooed.
“No catch? You’re just giving me $500?” my aunt scoffed, almost ready to hang up.
“No catch!” the woman reassured my aunt. “Just make your minimum payments.”
“So, you’re not GIVING me $500, are you?” my aunt confirmed, “...because you SAID you wanted to give me $500. But making payments means you’re not giving me anything.”
My aunt had now gotten mad. She wasn’t hanging up now – she was going to prove this young lady wrong.
“Well, yes, ma’am… you’ll have to re-pay the $500,” admitted the woman. “But you don’t have to pay it all back anytime soon. You can use it to purchase something you want for your home, or maybe a vacation, or clothing… it’s up to you how you want to spend it and when you want to pay it back.”
The woman knew she had to hustle with her spiel to keep my aunt engaged in the conversation.
“So,” my aunt toyed, realizing she had this little bank representative right where she wanted her. “You’re saying that you want to give people $500 to spend on whatever they want, whether they can afford it or not.”
Apparently, the lady from B of A didn’t see that one coming.
"Hey,” my native-New-Yorker-aunt continued, going in for the kill. “I”ve worked hard all my life to provide for myself, and do you know what I did when I wanted something I couldn’t afford?”
“No,” the woman mustered, meekly.
“I SAVED for it. I worked and saved until I could afford what I wanted. That’s what my generation did!” my aunt triumphed. “And now I’ve got a bank calling me – a BANK, of all things! – telling me I can get free money and assuming I’m so desperate for something I'll jump at the chance.” My aunt was indignant.
“Haven’t you banks learned anything? Isn’t this the kind of stupid credit that got us into the mess we have today?”
Did I mention my aunt is a native New Yorker?
The rep from B of A made some apologetic comment, and thanking my aunt for her time, hung up.
It's Not Just B of A
I share this story just to show that even today, banks don’t get it.
Not to say that people who’ve stopped paying their mortgages are right, either. They’re just as much a part of the problem.
But like my aunt, I was incredulous to learn the old “free money” lie is still part of the banking industry’s business model. So really, should bank executives be surprised that their mortgage customers now want some of that “free money” for themselves?
It’s like a bunch of kids in the back of dad’s car in the middle of a family road trip: "He started it!” “No, she did!”
And then Mom bellows, “I don’t care who started it! Just cut it out! NOW!”
Remember the silence in the car that would follow? Wouldn’t that sound nice right about now?