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Posts Tagged ‘the egg and the wall’

It’s unbelievable that the banking and credit card industries get away with the things they do. Well, wait. Let me calm down. It’s actually not unbelievable at all. Our government has shown so little interest in doing their job that it’s just the way things are these days.

Citimortgage no longer allows credit cards to be used for mortgage payments.

There’s so much wrong with this. Let me swallow my anger and try to put this in a larger context.

The world is in the midst of an economic crisis (among others). America’s financial crisis is tied in to a) the deregulation of the banks b) deregulation of credit card companies c) the housing crisis, which is bound up with both of the former, and D) the health care crisis. These things have happened very predictably, as the result of a number of actions taken together.

After the New Deal, a number of wealthy Americans spent a long time figuring out how to go back to the good old days, when small numbers of people could make vasts amount of money with no oversight or thought of social responsibilities. Since the New Deal was so popular, it took some time. Milton Friedman was a voice in the wilderness  (an insane voice) of a society which had realized that government could actually do good. But he was persistent, and there were all sorts of people ready to listen to a man like Milton. Most importantly, those listeners had money and influence. It took a long time, but deregulation became a golden word.

I remember sitting in my seventh grade history class and hearing the word “deregulation.” I didn’t know what it meant, but my instructor spoke glowingly of how “deregulation” would save us all. I recall a few years later some of Maryland’s companies (PEPCO and BG&E) were deregulated. Many of our teachers told us how wonderful this was, how our parents would pay less money and it would be great for the economy, or something like that. All that regulation was “socialist”, and business was more trustworthy and efficient than government. It was very vague. I came home and asked my mother what was deregulation. She got one of those faces she gets where it seems like she accidentally ate something really vile, but really she is disgusted. I got an earful of the evils of deregulation. But my desire to not think poorly of teachers I liked, and my eternal love of being the devil’s advocate, meant I argued with her a little while. Poorly. She threw up her hands and told me to wait and see. Since my Mom is nearly always right about social issues, a large part of me expected she would, unfortunately, be proven right.

The years have passed, I’ve waited and seen. I feel pity for my poor teacher and the millions of other Americans who have trusted their politicians to work for the public interest. Why not? Some politicians once did such things, and created social security, unemployment benefits, welfare. But then there were those who are motivated by greed and power. These people used the changing social roles and structure of the 1960s to appeal to people’s base prejudices. It was very successful. They spent decades and decades chipping away at the outer bits of the New Deal, and then they came to its heart. They have blocked the good things government can do at every turn, and have undone the good things government has done in the past.

Obviously, government is neither good or bad in and of itself. It’s what government is used to do. Government can either be used to take care of all the people, or it can be used to take care of some of the people, or it can be used to protect a very few from everyone else. Over the past few decades it has been used to protect the wealthy, even from themselves (the Wall Street bailouts). Government is being used in the hands of the wealthy as a sort of class warfare: the very rich against everyone else.

There are consequences to living in a for-profit, me-first world. The consequences are catastrophic when nearly all of the elites use their money and power to enrich and protect themselves. Normal, well-meaning people like those teachers and classmates believed what the right-wingers and conservative Democrats told them. They believed deregulation was going to make things better. Now people like them are in danger of losing their homes, and Citimortgage has no desire to help them.

Let me be very clear. Paying your mortgage off with a credit card is not good. It adds to your financial debt, it is using illusory wealthy to repay a real loan. You are converting low-interest debt to high-interest debt. It is not a long-term solution.

But let me be clear about something else. We are in a unique financial crisis. Unique in the fact that common sense has flown out the door. Or, conversely, reason is being used to justify all sorts of shitty things. Of course paying off your mortgage with a credit card is not healthy financially. But you know what else is bad? Losing your home, having to go through a foreclosure. What is going to happen to a family where the breadwinner is unemployed for a few weeks or months? What if they have used up their savings, and their unemployment benefits are not enough?¬† What about people who have worked hard their whole lives but owe $200,000 because they sent their children to college? What about people who put their savings in 401ks because they were told that was the economically smart thing to do, and then lost everything? What about people who don’t take vacations, who buy used cars, who don’t eat out or go shopping, who do everything they can to not live beyond their means, but can’t help falling behind because the cost of living has skyrocketed over the past 30 years and real wages have not? What if, for just one or two months, they need to rely on paying off the mortgage with the credit card? Things may improve later for them, but it doesn’t matter. All the surrounding circumstances don’t matter, and they can’t count on a government bailout. No taxpayer funds for them to soften the blow, no month or two of borrowing to get by. This is because we live in a world increasingly oriented to serve the wealthy, where government and corporations feel no desire to respond to the desperate needs of others.

Citimortgage does not mention their new policy on their website, of course. You have to go to pay your mortgage with them, and find out there is no longer an option for credit card payment. You have to call them up, and their customer service people won’t know what’s going on. You have to ask to talk to a manager, and they’ll tell you it was a quiet change made two months ago without a lot of publicity. You’ll be put on hold, and no one will talk to you. They’ll ignore you, because they can.

This is happening to real people. Good people who have paid their bills their whole life, people who have worked hard and played by the rules. Unfortunately, the people at the top aren’t interested. So people will lose their homes, because in the midst of a financial crisis it’s more important to protect the banks and credit card companies than to protect the people who have nothing to fall back upon.

Companies like CitiBank , Morgan Stanley, AIG and the rest of Wall Street are responsible for this situation. Companies which are not interested in protecting people who gave them their money and trust. Companies which used their vast wealth to persuade elected officials to deregulate, to take away the burdensome laws which bound them to some meager semblance of social responsibility. Companies which are made up of people, people who don’t see anything wrong with what they are doing. People who have somehow lost all connection to social responsibility to their fellow human beings. People who hide behind their companies, who justify their actions because they only work for the System, but they are not the System. People who point to everything around them and say they can’t help it.

But they can help it. They can choose to fight those policies. Those who make these rules can choose to stop looking out only for themselves. Those who make our laws can risk the media attack machine and try to bring common decency back to our government. The rest of us, we who don’t make the laws or the rules, have to keep speaking out against such greed, to keep siding with the egg, and never the wall. It bears repeating:

Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg…

….What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor.

This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others – coldly, efficiently, systematically….

…We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called The System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong – and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together.

Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow The System to exploit us. We must not allow The System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made The System.

That is all I have to say to you.”

-Haruki Murakami

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