Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fred Clark on Hell, Edward Yingling and the Credit Card Lobby

The Slacktivist has put up another masterpiece. Fred Clark holds a spokesman for the credit card industry up to the light to reveal a filthy underside.

In yesterday's New York Times, Yingling argued that if banks aren't allowed to continue their practices of arbitrary fees, undisclosed charges on those fees, and usurious interest rates invoked under the cover of the failure to promptly pay the undisclosed charges on the fees on the rate hikes -- if any of that is to be subjected to regulation, then good, responsible, hard-working white people will suffer in order to subsidize lazy, irresponsible crack addicted welfare queens. As a professional apologist for unchecked corporate power, of course, Yingling know he can't state it quite that baldly, so he euphemizes. In the wake of regulation of the debt market, Yingling says:

“It will be a different business,” said Edward L. Yingling, the chief executive of the American Bankers Association, which has been lobbying Congress for more lenient legislation on behalf of the nation’s biggest banks. “Those that manage their credit well will in some degree subsidize those that have credit problems.”

That last sentence is a marvel. We could unpack that for weeks -- the bald-faced threat, the dishonesty, the mythologies reasserted and reinforced. Divide and conquer? Check. Assertion that the poor are morally inferior and therefore deserving of their lower caste? Check. Warning that justice is a zero-sum game and that you will suffer if others are not preyed upon? Check. And let's not even bother lifting the rock of "those that have credit problems" to see what's wriggling and squirming under there.

I have mentioned this before but it's okay to repeat it. One of the proudest moments of my adult life as a parent was when one of my children made the right decision about a moral issue regarding an employer and decided to leave the job. An internship with a real company in a non-academic environment was one of the requirements for graduating with a degree in consumer economics. She was accepted by one of America's most famous finance companies where she was able to see first hand the nuts and bolts of business from the inside. She learned that lending money was only part of their main line of work. The core business, it turned out, was buying and servicing loan agreements made by other companies selling products and services on credit. Vacuum cleaners, swimming pools, club memberships, whatever... the company took over the details of collecting the money and interest following the sale. In other words, the "finance company" storefront was a collection agency.

She learned how the company could make special arrangements for people in debt to ease their burden, perhaps extending the terms of a loan in return for smaller payment amounts (and more interest income for the company). But the real kicker was a company policy to "help people make their payments" by granting them another loan. Of course there are plenty of ignorant people who imagine that they are getting a break as they dig the hole they are in even deeper, but my child was quick to see that what the company was doing was more than poor judgment. It was wrong. Morally wrong. On the basis of this discovery she decided she never wanted to work for such a company. She had seen first-hand how easy it would have been to climb the ladder in that organization. Key people there were into six-figure incomes early in their careers. But she chose instead to look for a different place to work. It still makes me proud to tell the story.

Go read what Fred Clark has written. Those of us who manage our affairs responsibly are in danger of hubris. If you are among that sanctimonious crowd that swells with righteous indignation as you read or hear about others who are in financial trouble during these tough times, he may give you a wake-up call.

Yingling is guilty, after all, of sodomy. "This was the sin of your sister Sodom," the prophet Ezekiel wrote, "She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and the needy." That's Edward L. Yingling and his employers in a nutshell. The credit-card magnates are arrogant, overfed and unconcerned. They sodomize the poor, every day, for money.

Perhaps, then, the world might be a better place if usurers and their lobbyists were convinced in the reality of an eternal, sulfurous torment awaiting the unjust. The idea of Hell might provide some value as a deterrent.

Something like this notion of the deterrent value of Hell is frequently suggested as an objection to my initial statement in this post, that I don't believe in Hell as a place of infinite and eternal torment. "But without Hell," this objection goes, "why should anyone be good?"

To their credit, almost none of the devout people raising this objection really means it. They are not, themselves, shaped and driven primarily by the fear of punishment. Such a fear is neither necessary nor sufficient to explain their own belief in the obligation to be and to do good, to love, to do justice or to correct injustice. The fear of Hell is, for them personally, scarcely a motivating factor at all. Their motivation is more like what 1 John says, "We love God because God first loved us," and not the terrorized and traumatized mutilation of that scripture, "We love God because God will burn us forever and ever if we don't."

So it's telling that the main advocates of the idea of Hell as a deterrent are not themselves influenced by that deterrent at all.

Nor, unfortunately, are those who really need to be -- the usurers, the torturers, the tyrants, abusers, enslavers, despoilers or predators.

No comments: