Posts tagged with: Financial economics

debt-collection-final-noticeFor decades The Episcopal Church (ECUSA) has faced declining membership (in 1966, the ECUSA had 3,647,297 members; by 2013, the membership was 1,866,758, a decline of 49 percent.) But even when people are leaving the pews someone still has to pay for those pews, as well as the other overhead costs that come with running a large organization. Not surprising, the denomination has sought ways to bring in additional revenue.

Currently, the ECUSA has two primary sources of income. According to its latest audited financial statements for the calendar year 2013, it received a little over $27 million from its member dioceses, and it received half as much again, or $13.8 million, from the federal government.

As A.S. Haley notes, the money ECUSA received from the federal government was in connection with the services provided by Episcopal Migration Ministries, which assists the State Department in relocating refugees throughout the United States. That is certainly noble and necessary work, and the denomination should be commended for providing a valuable service to a vulnerable community.

But as Haley points out, the records show the ECUSA also makes a lot of money as a debt collector:


and112812blogNear the top of the list of things I despise is companies that take advantage of the plight of the poor and desperate. But just above that on my list is something I hate even more: being poor and desperate. That’s why I loathe payday lending companies that charge usurious interest rates—and why I’m not yet ready to see them abolished.

Here’s how payday lending works. If you have a job (and pay stub to prove it), a payday lending company will allow you to write and cash a post-dated check. For this service the company will charge an absurd interest rate. A typical two-week payday loan with a $15 per $100 fee equates to an annual percentage rate (APR) of almost 400 percent. So if you need $100, you write the check for $115 and they’ll give you $100 in cash. Two weeks later they cash your check or you can renew or “rollover” the amount—for an exorbitant fee.

Why would anyone agree to such terms? Because they have no other choice. About twenty years ago I made some terrible choices and found myself in a serious financial bind. The amount I needed wasn’t much—about $200—but without it I wouldn’t have been able to pay my rent. I took out a payday loan that cost me $30 every two weeks. It took about eight weeks to get clear of the loan, resulting in a cost of $120 to borrow $200 for two months.

If you’re middle class and think of it in terms of interest rate, that repayment cost sounds appalling usurious. And it is. But as the poor will tell you, man does not live on APR alone. Having to pay an extra $120 was cheaper than having to find a new place to live. Yes, it was a bad deal. But it was better than all my other choices.

That is why I believe every serious critique of payday lending needs to be accompanied by a serious proposal to help those who are trapped by such “poverty problems.” An excellent example of an alternative approach is the one offered by Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Richmond, Virginia. One of their church members, Nina McCarthy, was initially trapped in the vicious payday lending circle:

Interest-Rate-burdenUsury is the practice of making immoral monetary loans intended to unfairly enrich the lender. But what, for Christians, counts as an immoral loan?

For much of church history, any interest was considered immoral. The 12th canon of the First Council of Carthage (345) and the 36th canon of the Council of Aix (789) declared it to be reprehensible even for anyone to make money by lending at interest. But that view eventually changed, and today even the Vatican participates in modern banking.

Some Catholics have used this example to argue for other changes, such as contraception. As Jay Richards notes,

bankruptcyThe Bible has a lot to say about the principles behind bankruptcy law, says T. Kyle Bryant. In the Old Testament, God gave Moses various laws concerning the poor, lenders, borrowers, and debt forgiveness.

From these passages, we get a glimpse of how God makes provision for people who cannot pay their debt after a certain number of years. Beside discouraging lenders from making “bad” loans (ones that could not be repaid in seven years), the law prevented overwhelming debt from ruining a person’s life forever. In this way, God’s law provided for a type of bankruptcy protection every seven years (and every 50 years for land).

The United States bankruptcy scheme is complex, but the similarities between it and the biblical system are striking. Both systems served to protect the relatively powerless consumers and give predictability and stability to the creditors. For example, in the Israelite law, debtors could be released from their debts every seven years—no matter the amount of the debt, it was gone. This prevented common debtors from having to sell themselves into slavery in perpetuity to pay for their debts. On the other hand, it gave a stable and predictable risk profile to creditors seeking repayment of those debts. Lenders could temper their desire to make risky loans with the knowledge that any chance of repayment after the seventh year was uncertain.

In a similar way, the Bankruptcy Code allows a person freedom from their debt every eight years. Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code governs (in large part) individual debtors and the discharge of a person’s debt. If someone has received a discharge of their debt under Chapter 7, they must wait eight years before they can file for bankruptcy again. This echoes the biblical pattern of debt being wiped away every seven years. (But whether this tempers creditors’ risky lending practices is another question).

Read more . . .

noun_project_19538As the US federal government sidled up to the debt ceiling earlier this week without quite running into it, one of the key arguments in favor of raising the debt ceiling was that it is immoral to breach a contract. The federal government has creditors, both from whom it has borrowed money and to whom it has promised transfer payments, and it has an obligation to fulfill those promises.

As Joe Carter argued here, “Member of Congress who are refusing to raise the debt ceiling (or raise taxes) until their ancillary demands are met are acting immorally, since they are refusing to pay the debts they themselves authorized.”

But as Connie Cass writes, the idea that the United States has never defaulted isn’t quite true. As she writes,

America has briefly stiffed some of its creditors on at least two occasions.

Once, the young nation had a dramatic excuse: The Treasury was empty, the White House and Capitol were charred ruins, even the troops fighting the War of 1812 weren’t getting paid.

A second time, in 1979, was a back-office glitch that ended up costing taxpayers billions of dollars. The Treasury Department blamed the mishap on a crush of paperwork partly caused by lawmakers who — this will sound familiar — bickered too long before raising the nation’s debt limit.

So if it is immoral to default, then America has done so at least twice.

Shareholder activism, according to the headline in the most recent issue of PRWeek, is “rising” and “big companies [are] in crosshairs.” The ensuing article by Brittaney Kiefer, begins:

Shareholder activism used to be just a nuisance that arose during proxy season, involving a group of contentious investors who tended to target smaller or less established companies.

However, in recent years activists have set their sights on larger companies, and more traditional investors are joining those fights. As shareholder activism goes mainstream, companies are becoming more proactive in engaging investors year-round, communications professionals say.

Ms. Kiefer’s article is a fine example of objective reporting on the growing trend of shareholder activism, but she avoids untangling the Gordian knot of interests behind these increasingly concerted efforts by leftist activists. These efforts include the recruitment of such religious-based investment groups as Walden Asset Management, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Needmor Fund and various and sundry Unitarian Universalist collectives to sprinkle – albeit disingenuously – holy water on the whole progressive agenda. Explains Kiefer:

An activist shareholder is an investor who attempts to use his or her stake in a publicly traded corporation to affect change at the company. Activists often launch campaigns that put public pressure on companies, tackling issues such as executive compensation, management structure, or corporate strategy.

Sounds rather benign, no? Actually, as noted here and here, these groups have metastasized from mere nuisance to genuine threats to not only corporate (and shareholder) profitability, but to free speech (including scientific debate) and helping the nation’s (and world’s) poorest. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, September 27, 2012

At the height of the housing crisis, it was estimated that 11 million homes in America were mortgaged for more than they were worth. That debt crisis may soon be dwarfed—if it hasn’t been already—by the student loan debt problem:

With college enrollment growing, student debt has stretched to a record number of U.S. households — nearly 1 in 5 — with the biggest burdens falling on the young and poor.

The analysis by the Pew Research Center found that 22.4 million households, or 19 percent, had college debt in 2010. That is double the share in 1989, and up from 15 percent in 2007, just prior to the recession — representing the biggest three-year increase in student debt in more than two decades.

Unlike an negative equity mortgage, student load debt is not dischargeable in a bankruptcy. It’s also non-transferable—the college degree that was “bought” with the debt cannot be sold or traded. That makes degrees that are not “marketable” or that were acquired for reasons of personal growth an expensive luxury good.

Obviously many people (including me, with some qualifications) believe that the value of obtaining a liberal education is worth taking on debt. But what about graduates who will receive neither a life-broadening education nor a vocationally useful skill-set from getting a college degree? Should we continue to encourage them to take on debt to pay for higher education?

Whether the lottery is, as the old adage states, a tax on people who are bad at math, it is most certainly a tax on the poor. Those who have the least spend an inordinate percentage of their income every year on lottery tickets (estimates vary from 4-9%). Yet while it is irrational for those in poverty to waste their limited resources on a one in 176 million chance, there is something almost rational in the reasoning for doing so. As The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson points out:

Pieter de Hooch - A Woman with a Baby in her Lap, and a Small ChildOne of the justifications for the HHS mandates (amended now to require insurance companies to provide contraceptives free of charge) has been purely economic. The idea is that the use of contraceptives saves insurance companies (and by extension the rest of us) money, as it is less expensive to pay for condoms or birth control pills than to pay for a pregnancy and birth.

Of course the calculus to come up with such a conclusion is flawed in myriad ways. But even if we were to assume the veracity of the contention, many questions immediately arise. For instance, why wouldn’t insurance companies voluntarily offer birth control coverage gratis if it would lower their costs? Aren’t these the same profit-maximizing institutions that politicians have been demonizing for years? Aren’t the insurers the professionals, whose business it is to know what ways are available for minimizing exposure? The very fact that up to this point insurance companies have not added free birth control as a preventive care measure is powerful evidence against the economic argument in favor of contraception.