Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 23, 2008

Sub-Prime Loan Crisis: Credit Where Credit Is Due

Useful factoid of the day: The average revolving monthly credit card balance for current U.S. families is $17,000.

Lest we be tempted to solely blame irresponsible financial institutions and investment banks for the present crisis, the above figure is a reminder that over-reliance on credit to support a lifestyle we cannot afford is a disturbing tradition in the American economy at least since the 1980s, and probably earlier. For more on this, take a look at the testimony of economic sociologist Robert D. Manning before Congress in February 2001. (Quick! Which presidential candidate was asleep at the switch in Congress over almost the entire thirty-year period that this crisis has been developing, including an association with the earlier version, the Savings and Loan/Keating Five debacle in 1991?) Manning also wrote a book on the subject, called Credit Card Nation: America’s Dangerous Addiction to Consumer Credit.

Today, more links to good reporting and editorials about the financial crisis, banking deregulation, and other relevant issues.

A few months back, the Chicago-based NPR program This American Life  ran an informative and entertaining hour-long program called “The Giant Pool of Money”. Click the title to hear a free podcast, with real stories from the mouths of those making bad mortgage loans, those packaging and re-selling them, those taking them on and defaulting (a.k.a. losing their houses… let’s call it as it is), and those economic experts breaking down the problem in plainspeak.

Also on public broadcasting (and thank God for it!), I caught part of an extended interview with economist and author Kevin Phillips on Bill Moyers’ Journal program last week. Phillips is a former Nixon economic advisor, pointing a finger at Greenspan, Reagan and the entire history of deregulation in financial markets. He paints a pretty grim picture of the present scenario. (Bear in mind, he is a pre-Reagan Republican, from back when fiscal conservatives actually made sense, instead of trading in empty, “no new taxes”, permanent-election-cycle rhetoric.)

Last week, an op-ed piece on the financial meltdown by Jim Wallis, a progressive Christian minister and long-time voice of reason, discussing the need to treat economic policy and poverty as religious and moral issues. Wallis is the founding publisher of Sojourners magazine, which also has a significant web presence.

Read ’em and weep, as the old-style gamblers are fond of saying. Let’s hope we can all stop playing poker with borrowed money, and mortgaging our children’s future.


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