Monday, September 29, 2008

What Lies Ahead

Pretty Lady has a vague recollection of once being told, somewhere, that she was a snob and a Condescending Bitch for saying that she would not marry a gambler, whether his gambling consisted of poker tournaments or investment banking.

She stands by her opinion. The Desiderata remains on her bathroom wall: 'Keep interested in your own career, however humble, for it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.'

Gambling is not a career. It is a vacant, parasitic, ultimately destructive occupation. (Thanks to 'a christian' for the link. The episode of 'This American Life' is long, but highly informative, and the perfect thing to listen to while decluttering one's desk of credit offers from defunct institutions.)

So please bear with Pretty Lady while she makes a few obvious points. In moments of crisis, sometimes the obvious is helpful.

1) This crisis did not come about because of Helping Poor People. It is not Helpful to a Poor Person to thrust unlimited credit upon him at a ballooning interest rate. This is known as usury. In many cases, it amounts to blatant fraud. If you listen to the entire TAL episode, you will note that many callow young investment bankers simply made up enormous monthly incomes for poor people and put them on loan applications. This is lying, criminal fraud. It does not relate to programs which help poor people become economically self-sufficient. Attempting to shift blame onto would-be helpers of poor people is of a piece with the weaselly mentality that commited this fraud in the first place.

2) This crisis is not about mortages anymore. It is a crisis of credit. So many people borrowed imaginary money in order to make themselves obscenely rich by manipulating numbers that now, people who are genuinely working, building and employing others cannot finance their enterprises. The credit crisis cannot be solved by giving more imaginary money to usurious, fraudulent drones. It may be solved by providing judicious assistance to people who--gasp--ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING.

3) Examples of actually doing something:
•Developing alternative energy sources.
•Fixing decaying infrastructure.
•Designing and building energy-efficient housing.
•Designing and building energy-efficient vehicles.
•Growing and distributing food.
•Patching roofs.
•Providing healing therapies.
•Developing healing techniques.
•Teaching practical information, such as how to read, write and manage money responsibly.
•Building hospitals and public transportation systems.
•Repairing bicycles.
•Delivering babies.
Pretty Lady keeps noticing that whenever she brings up this notion of actually doing something, both as an inevitable outcome of the current situation and as a worthy end unto itself, she seems to be greeted by the twittering of crickets. Is this because her notions are self-evident, or unthinkable?

For as Deborah points out, we have verily come to the End of Modernism. We can no longer operate as though our ego-will were the entirety of reality. We must acknowledge that any action we take affects other people, and that eventually, these effects return to us. Thus we cannot engage in 'careers' which are parasitic, manipulative, solipsistic or destructive without suffering destruction in turn. We must actually connect with other people in healthy, positive, pragmatic ways.

Why is this so awful?


Anonymous said...

Pretty Lady

“This crisis did not come about because of Helping Poor People.”

I cannot for the life of me figure out how helping the poor entered your equation. Just who was it that was trying to help the poor. The present debacle seems to have unfolded thus, (basically):

Minority advocacy groups “suddenly discover” that mortgage loan applications for minorities are turned down far more frequently than “white applications”. Opportunity!

Minority advocacy groups cajole appropriate government institutions to look into the matter. First to jump aboard this ship were the Boston Fed and U. S. Comptroller. Gotcha!

Boston Fed states: "discrimination may be observed when a lender's underwriting policies contain arbitrary or outdated criteria that effectively disqualify many urban or lower-income minority applicants." Why hadn’t someone thought of this before?

Community Reinvestment Act: Clinton administration raises and then Dubya sees the raise and raises again (I believe Bush admin even got rid of the down payment requirement? – players er… loan applicants no longer had to even ante up to play for the stakes). All in.

Justice department would keep an eye on lending institutions to make sure they would play according to the new house rules. Pit bosses.

All this for what? Buying the votes of the poor? Garnering ever more political contributions and favors? Greasing the way for perpetual financial profits by way of perpetual economic growth? That “bankers simply made up enormous monthly incomes for poor people” is true. That they alone (or even primarily) should bear red-hot criticism is grossly unfair. The government did not just aid and abet this fiasco. They were the masterminds and architects. They provided the dice (loaded), cards (marked) and orders (threats!) and they alone are culpable.


PS: You are too hard on “gamblers” – no good can come of absolutism.

Nancy said...

When 'Pup was laid off from his job at Very Big Bank (the one that just got WaMu), we thought it was a Terrible Thing. In the end, for us, it was a hidden blessing, as 'Pup's health improved away from there, and then, when he got a new job... well... it didn't pay as much, but it was a good job.

Now, we know that his new job is not just good, it is secure. He works for a company that makes products needed (absolutely) world wide for the production of a needed commodity. As you said...his job is in MAKING someTHING.

Pretty Lady, I've been reading both liberal and conservative blogs and I've NEVER seen an issue where so many on both sides were so firmly united.

Yet, the media seems to be pushing the idea that "It Must Be Done For The Good Of The Country".

Even a cursory examination of the voting record says that Representatives from BOTH parties voted against this bail out. Yet, all I've heard on the news was that the two parties are fighting to blame each other for it's failure. ????!!!!????

Pretty Lady said...

Nancy, good on ya'.

George, and DC, who is evidently linking over here--can neither of you READ???

At the risk of repeating myself:

It is not Helpful to a Poor Person to thrust unlimited credit upon him at a ballooning interest rate. This is known as usury. In many cases, it amounts to blatant fraud.

People who take advantage of a mandate to stop unwarranted discrimination by destroying the lives of poor people with irresponsible loans at usurious interest rates ARE WEASELS. They are adhering to the letter and not the spirit of the law. It is disingenuous to state that there should be no programs in place to genuinely assist the poor, because some have been used to harm them.

If you listen to 'This American Life,' the mandate to issue mortgages without down payments or income verification did not come from Congress--it came from investment banks at the highest levels. People issued these loans because they were counting on being able to sell them off at the earliest opportunity, thus earning commissions and disclaiming responsibility for defaults.

In sum, it is not loaning to minorities that is the problem; it is loaning to anyone who is self-evidently unable to repay the loan, at variable interest rates which skyrocket over time. There are plenty of low-income minority homeowners who work several jobs, rent out part of their home, and do just fine. Artificially redlining these people out of mortgage loans is, was, and continues to be an injustice which required correction.

Anonymous said...

Pretty Lady

Nor is it helpful to come out with a report stating:

"discrimination may be observed when a lender's underwriting policies contain arbitrary or outdated criteria that effectively disqualify many urban or lower-income minority applicants."

I've had bookies make less threatening "suggestions" than this.

You may be as critical of the bankers as you deem fit, but before the Community Reinvestment Act and its subsequent updates there were no such financial problems. To absolve the politicians is quite as reckless as what the bankers did. Good intentions are not an excuse for bad law, lowered standards, and veiled threats.

Pretty Lady said...

George, we're going to have to agree to disagree on this. I see no problem whatsoever with the statement, "discrimination may be observed when a lender's underwriting policies contain arbitrary or outdated criteria that effectively disqualify many urban or lower-income minority applicants."

It seems to me to be simple, unvarnished truth. 'Arbitrary or outdated criteria' are arbitrary and outdated criteria. Income verification, credit history and down payments are neither arbitrary nor outdated. Responsible banking focuses on these things, not the race or the neighborhood of the loan applicant.

Anonymous said...

Pretty Lady

”Income verification, credit history and down payments are neither arbitrary nor outdated”

Then why allow them to be disregarded. Either they were (disregarded) or the bankers were onto something in using “redlining”

LA Times stated in a May 31, 1999 article:

“Community Reinvestment Act, a 20-year-old statute meant to combat “redlining” by requiring banks to serve their low-income communities. The administration also has sent a clear message by stiffening enforcement of the fair housing and fair lending laws.”

Please note: “requiring banks to serve” i.e. LEND : OR ELSE “enforcement of …laws”.

Take it from an inveterate gambler, the preceding has no nuance, it is an offer you cannot refuse. If you can still detect no hint of coercion than we will indeed agree to disagree.

Chris Rywalt said...

Bucky Fuller liked to say, I think, that about 60 percent of people working in America are performing useless busywork -- checking up on the people who are checking up on other people and such like. My only problem with his estimate is I think it's too optimistic -- Bucky always was an optimist. I think it's more like 95 percent. Maybe more.

I've seen this myself. For all that I've been paid over the years I've done approximately no useful work. I've been a leech. It's not entirely my fault -- although I blame myself for being less ambitious than I could be, I guess -- but many jobs I've had have simply given me nothing to do. Since most of my career's been spent as a consultant paid by the hour, you'd think companies would have very specific things for me to do, but somehow they often didn't.

Bucky liked to say, too, that all the people doing non-useful work could really just stay home and have their paychecks mailed to them. This would actually improve things: First, we'd save all the resources spent on getting these people to and from work and while at work and so on. And second, while most people would spend all their new free time watching TV and fucking and eating and playing video games, some small number of them would get bored and start THINKING. And that thinking would lead to new science, new technology, new inventions. The leisure class has always been where those advances come from, after all. With so many more people working on those kinds of things, we'd have even more resources to invest in having people stay home and do nothing.

Pretty soon we'd have the world working for everyone. And wouldn't that be great?

But we persist in this time mortgage view of work. The important thing is not what you do to get paid -- it's what you don't do, i.e. whatever you want. As long as you're not doing whatever you want, you're allowed to get paid for it.


The Aardvark said...

Why the crickets?

My sweet, attending to anything on your short list would require getting up from the keyboard and actually doing summat. Gad, Why should I stop yelling at the radio? I'm participating (...wait...I think the call screener is about to answer!!!).

Goo forbid that I should get out and miss a single syllable of talk-radio wisdom.

James is not defining the Christian faith per se, but he is defining religion's baseline: "Pure and undefiled religion is this: helping the widow and the orphan.". (Allow me to be Characteristic and say this is best handled individually and in small groups. BIG = WASTEFUL.)

A line from a long-forgotten play was :Whether we cook it, or whether we eat it raw, we must do something.

We must DO something.

I guess this is a rambling "amen". I need to sleep. Bye.

Pretty Lady said...

this is best handled individually and in small groups. BIG = WASTEFUL.

Sometimes it is. But allow me to point out, that I, personally, or in company with a small group, am incapable of founding and maintaining Bronx Science High School. I am incapable of building 50,000 units of affordable housing. I can write to my Congressman supporting these things, and agitate on their behalf, and teach a class at the one or mentor in the other, but if I were to try it alone, I would surely fail.

Sometimes BIG=EFFICIENT. And sometimes rigid aphorisms blind us to possibilities.

The Aardvark said...

But if an aphorism isn't rigid, it will fold under pressure! Where did YOU study polemical engineering? ;^)

Alas, my point was directly helping individuals in present need (which is better than making them wait 'til the paperwork gets done.)

Certainly, you need a bunch of The Skilled to accomplish big jobs, but almost anyone can mow Widow Jenkins' lawn, and the private sector, big or small, is still normally more efficient than government, which was also my sleep-deprived point.

Wow, Not only do you look a gift amen in the mouth, you count the teeth, too!