Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Usury Country

by Daniel Brook
I've never fully understood America, and I don't think America's ever understood how it looks to people who haven't grown up there. There are so many good things to say and appreciate about that country. But at the same time, there are so many things that go on in the US, or are a part of the American character, that I don't think I'll ever be able to understand.

Money is definitely one of those things. I'm not going to pretend that we don't have cheque-cashing places here in Canada, or that the pay-day loan isn't a trap a lot of people here have fallen into as well; I just don't really think we would have invented it. And if a Canadian had invented it, I don't think they would portray themselves as a munificent patriarchal figure who would brag about giving a woman money to buy a Christmas tree for her grand-daughter well charging her interest rates of some 300%. The best part of this story is of course when the rich man also boasts that the little granddaughter now also uses his services, at the same usuriously high rates.

James Eaton and Allan Jones are two of the people who have made themselves quite wealthy off of this shady shady practice, and Brook really doesn't pull his punches when he portrays them as living very comfortably off the backs of their community. Jones sees himself as a local celebrity, and has done many good things for his town, but I'm not sure that creating and foisting on local children the Hallowe'en character Tall Betsy is really something people would appreciate.

What comes out of this article is that a few very smart (or devious) people have figured out ways to exploit the marginal existence of the working poor in the United States (and elsewhere - we do have this stuff here too), and are able, by having charged relatively small but regular fees, to continue to gain wealth while the mainstream banks are in need of bailing-out. It's a good article.

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