8.23.2007

Debtor's Prison....An Idea whose Time has come Again?

As I was reading the news this morning, there was an article about the Fed slashing the rate charged to the nation's "least credit worthy commercial banks". Apparently this was done in response to pressure received from Wall Street and the White House and was supposed to help the Economy. The consensus seems to be, however, that it will have the opposite effect.

About half-way through the article there's a link that says:

Talk back: Time to bring back debtors prison?

I stared at this for a moment, stunned. Was the person that wrote this serious? Surely no one could think this would be a good idea. Curious now, I clicked the link. Sadly, there were actually people who thought it might be a good idea. They were limiting it to the housing area, but seemed oblivious to the larger picture.

Walk with me down this twisted path, won't you?

Tomorrow the United States Government reinstates "debtor's prison" making it a criminal offense to renege on a debt. This offense is punishable by time in a federal prison. It is meant to keep people from taking on debt they can not realistically hope to sustain. (Because we all know how good Americans are at preventing crime....that's why there are NO drunk drivers in this country, right? Because people KNOW it's illegal.)

Now, the law goes into effect and suddenly Joe down the street is being arrested. You look at your spouse and you say, "I didn't know Joe was behind on his mortgage payment." Your spouse replies, "Oh he wasn't. Last year Little Sally got sick and they had some medical bills they couldn't pay. That's what he got arrested for."

Two days later your at work and Tammy, the girl in the next cubicle, doesn't come back from lunch. You inquire about what happened to her. Your coworker says to you in hushed tones, "Oh, didn't you hear? Last winter she ran up a huge gas bill that she hasn't paid off. She got arrested for it."

How about that movie you forgot to return? The library fine you forgot you had? The teenager that writes a bad check? Let's not even get started on credit card debt....

Meanwhile, you start to notice that there aren't any wealthy people being arrested, even that guy down the street that you KNOW hasn't made his house payment in six months because he's paying alimony to three wives. Why? Because he can pay an attorney.

Debtor's prisons punish the poor simply for being poor. It's why they were done away with in the first place. Instead of even entertaining a discussion about bringing back such an arcahic and useless system, we should be discussing the real problems. Credit card companies that extend credit to people when they know those people can not possibly make the amount of money required to pay off the balances in a realistic amount of time. Mortgage companies that will offer finance rates that suddenly change, thus making a home look affordable when it really isn't.

And the most important factor? Teaching people to live with in their means. Sure you might be able to afford a $3800.00 house payment, but can you still afford a $3800.00 house payment when you add in the actual cost of the home? The electricity, gas, water and upkeep on a home that size? Does your family really NEED a home that size? Do you need five credit cards? Why not save up for what you need?

Most banks offer pre-paid Visa or MasterCard that can be used to shop online or take on vacation. Keep one that you use for emergencies or hotel reservations and car rentals if needed.

It's called Common Sense.

I am hereby forming the Citizens Coalition for Common Sense. If you join, it will be your job to scoff openly at the idiotic lack of common sense in society today. When you see someone doing something blatantly stupid it will be your job to laugh openly, but not explain why your laughing. More importantly, it will be your job to work for the implementation of Common Sense in everyday life.

They say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Well it's broke...we need to fix it. FAST.

2 comments:

ian said...

On the other hand...

If we had a debtors' prison, that would give us a huge pool of cheap labor to exploit by bringing overseas jobs back home. Managers in Chinese factories probably know that melamine is going into their pet food and lead into their childrens' toys and they don't care because THEIR dogs and THEIR children aren't getting what they're making. AMERICAN CAPITALIST SWINE dogs and children are.

So now you have Americans who are in debt are working, producing products in America again. This in turn will strengthen the economy and boost our GDP. Eventually, incomes will rise because of it, and fewer and fewer people will go into debt. The rich will get richer, surely, but so will the poor.

My gosh, it's the American Dream in action!

Am I serious? Only I know for sure...

Ian

Suzanne said...

I'm in! And Congress moved us closer to the reality of something like debtor's prison when they made it harder for regular folks to file for bankruptcy. I'm no advocate of people living above their means, but I also think credit cards do so much to encourage this that it is a scandal. Years ago (1997 or so), I received a letter from my credit card company informing me that my credit limit was raised. Fine. I never used the entire line before, so I could care less. But I was shocked when the letter actually said to "Think of this as a raise."

Sick.