by Paul C. Wright
Global Research, March 3, 2010
If you are one of the millions of Americans locked into long term debt service, your road to debt serfdom was likely paved by a mortgage, home equity loan, credit cards, or a combination of all three.
When the U.S. economy began to melt down in 2007 and entered a rapid period of decline in 2008, all eyes were fixed on the subprime mortgage crisis. Though the mortgage crisis, triggered by spurious lending practices and unprecedented risky investment bank practices, was undoubtedly the dominant factor affecting the American consumer in 2008, credit card debt and default was also making a contribution to the deteriorating economy and collapsing standard of living. As the subprime mortgage crisis accelerated, the increasing number of people falling behind on payments or defaulting on credit card debt was largely ignored by the media, with only a sporadic story or two being aired or printed by the major news outlets. Stories finally started receiving vastly more media attention in 2009 as the problem became too large to ignore. Credit cards, once a status symbol and the prized possession of the American consumer, had quickly become the bane of the American consumer.
Credit cards, while omnipresent now, were not always widely used by consumers to make purchases. At one time the credit card was seen as a novel and trendy idea, with a limited number of cardholders who were in effect members of a special club. Now, credit cards are viewed as essential purchasing tools that everyone must have, for status, transactional ease, and even necessity in some instances. Many purchases, particularly those related to travel and lodging, absolutely require credit cards. The overwhelming majority of internet vendors require a credit card for the purchases. In essence, it is nearly impossible not to have a credit card in the 21 st century. The credit card has come a long way in its short history.
CARD CHECK: “You have nothing to lose but your chains”
By Mike Whitney
Global Research, December 9, 2008
Even though the Federal Reserve is now the biggest single participant in the financial system, the myth of a “free market” still lingers on. It’s mind boggling. The Fed has expanded its balance sheet by $2 trillion, guaranteed $8.3 trillion of dodgy mortgage-backed paper, provided a backstop for bank deposits, money markets, commercial paper, and created 8 separate lending facilities to ensure that underwater financial institutions can still appear to be solvent. The whole system is a state subsidized operation buoyed on a taxpayer-provided flotation device which bears no resemblance to an invisible hand. More astonishing, is the massive power grab engineered by the Fed which has taken place without the slightest protest from 535 shell-shocked congressmen and senators. Elected officials have either kept their finger in the air to see which way the political wind is blowing or timidly caved in to Treasury’s every multi-billion dollar demand. It’s flagrant blackmail and everyone knows it. Congressional oversight is an oxymoron.
Anyone who has followed the financial crisis from its origins knows that the Fed’s bloody fingerprints are all over the crime scene. Still, that hasn’t stopped well-meaning liberal economists (Krugman, Stiglitz, Reich) from supporting Bernanke’s increasingly unorthodox attempts to flood the financial system with liquidity (“quantitative easing”) and invoke whatever radical strategy pops into his head. In fact, many of the experts believe that Bernanke should do even more given the sheer size of the meltdown. There’s growing support for a gigantic stimulus package ($700 billion) which will focus on road construction, infrastructure, state aid, extensions to unemployment benefits and green technologies. The Obama camp hopes that government programs and deficit spending will make up for the huge losses in aggregate demand which threaten to drag prices down even further in a self-reinforcing deflationary cycle. Even so, its natural to wonder at the wisdom of giving even more power to the very people who created the mess to begin with and who seem more interested in proving their depression-fighting theories than throwing a lifeline to struggling homeowners, consumers or auto workers. Maybe its time to try something different.