Are documentaries getting better or is it just me? At least, they’re getting more interesting. Last night, I watched Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lending (2006) and must offer my highest recommendations to those considering adding to their rental “queue.”
While this documentary is certainly a biased vehicle through which writer, director, producer James Duncan Scurlock expresses his opinions on the unethical credit industry and the government’s collusion, it nevertheless provides an eye-opening paradigm behind the every-man’s everyday experience with credit card companies. If you think you have it bad, watch this documentary – for real – and you’ll feel like you’re living large and in charge. And happiness is all in the mind, which is why the Danish are on top of the world.
It’s easy to take away from Maxed Out the the significance of the lack of regulation of the unethical credit industry by the government. It’s so cute when the Republicans and Libertarians parade their free market ideals and forget that the human element prevents these theories from successfully materializing, despite all the good intentions and numerical data. And they want to open the health care industry in the same manner – unregulated, free market doctors, medicine, scalpels. Yeah, that will work out real well! Lack of regulation has proven so effective in the housing industry, which has resulted in mass foreclosures and helped initiate a recession, and global trade, which provides us Americans cheap consumer goods by taking advantage of poor working conditions outside of our borders. Don’t ask don’t tell and the like.
What we need is a combination of economics and anthropology. The human element – which differs from culture to culture – inhibits capitalism, socialism or communism in their pure forms. China has had to mix capitalism with their brand of communism. The U.S. will never fully achieve a free market system that does not victimize the lowest common denominator. Until economists and legislators alike realize this fundamental reality and Americans stop falling for the right-wing line that all their taxes and all the government regulation only benefit the undeserving over the hard worker, we’re going to have these economic meltdowns – most especially when a Republican Congress rubberstamps a Republican White House.
But I digress as I often do.
Maxed Out hit home for me especially as I am a poster-child for financial misunderstanding and irresponsibility. To put it mildly, I bit off more than I could chew when I was in college and partied like a rock star in my early twenties. And while it can take a week to ruin your credit, it can take a lifetime to repair it. The cards are stacked against you and the system is designed to squeeze every penny from your cold, dead hands. It’s grotesque.
As a wise, old 30-something (does 30 count as 30-something?), I have seen the light and rectified my ways. What I have taken from my experience, however, is the belief in the necessity of financial training for children – especially teens. We have typing class, calculus, electives, foreign languages and yet the very basics of money-management is exempt from regular school curricula. I’m very happy to have learned about STD’s and what PCP does to the human and mice brains. But the development of my adulthood would have been greatly improved had the Texas School Board of Education seen fit at some point to include information on CHECKING ACCOUNTS, OVERDRAFT FEES, FICO SCORES, etc., etc., etc…
Few other skills in life rank above that of money management and merely having a weekly allowance doesn’t cut it. I have no idea why there are not parents at every PTO meeting calling for the inclusion of such education. We are left to our own devices and my devices were fairly shitty. I’m improving bit by bit (my stepdad gives me a subscription to Money Magazine), but you know it’s a long, hard slog and watching college loan payments the size of luxury car payments head into the wind every month still stings.
Quality of life is determined by the quality of our decisions and the quality of our decisions is largely dependent on the quality of our training and education. I knew nothing of finance when I entered my twenties, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let avoidable circumstances dictate the outcome of my financial existence.
So, be smart, get learned and watch Maxed Out. Cause that shit is crazy.