Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: API's New Ad,and Auto Lending
August 17, 2016 7:40 PM - Season 3, Episode 21 - Subscribe

This week...

The 2016 Election: "The Lady Liberty Convenience Store Robbery Gone Wrong Descending Into a Hostage Situation and Now She's Demanding a Chopper 2016"
Hillary Clinton: "Can we talk about that new hairdo? NO, NO, WE NEVER, EVER CAN."
Donald Trump: "The owner of what you might describe as Resting Rich-Face."
Cars: "The muse for America's greatest songs, from the complete works of Bruce Springsteen to Tim McGraw's Ode to the American Truck."

F.37: "Solid Goldus," Simone Manuel
posted by JHarris (3 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This was a really good episode. John Oliver's done a lot on predatory lenders over the years and as much as I hate them and think they're slimy and exploitative, I sometimes feel a little frustrated at the dialogue around them. Because as awful as we can all acknowledge that they are, like it or not, they still serve a very real purpose. Because if you're a single mother and you need to get to work or you lose your job and you're literally unable to restructure your life and the lives of your children to take a 1.5 hour multi-bus ride twice a day to get to and from work then you're probably desperate enough to not really care if you're getting a competitive interest rate on a car loan, or whether or not you're paying 3x what it's actually worth over time, as long as it can help you now.

Because being poor is a series of day-to-day decisions like this. If you can't get to your low-paying job, you'll get fired, and if you get fired, you won't be able to make your rent and you'll get evicted and if you and your kids get evicted then you are well and truly F U C K E D. So you scramble to keep everything together as well as you can and hope and pray that nothing unexpected happens which will send the whole house of cards tumbling.

It's a fragile existence and if we had things like a stronger social safety net, stronger worker rights and protections, better wages, etc., we could then really set our sights on these kinds of operations. But we don't and so shady hucksters step up to the plate to fill the gaping hole that we have a society have failed to even barely acknowledge, let alone fix.

So then we get people who want to pass all sorts of laws to limit or outlaw these kinds of lenders without any real proposals as to what the real poverty-stricken people are going to do when they have literally no one to turn to. And we click our tongues over the sky-high interest rates they're paying, assuming that, 1) if you're poor, you're not smart enough to understand you're probably being robbed, and, 2) that you really even care, given that your main focus is to keep all the cards standing and get through everything that is being thrown at you today.

Because here's the thing - caring about interest rates is a luxury, being price-sensitive is a luxury, being able to plan things over the medium or long term is a luxury. And if we don't acknowledge that when we're talking about predatory lenders, then we're being blinded by our privilege and we're not actually really doing anything to help truly poor or vulnerable people. I despise predatory lenders and would like to see them gone forever. But they are what we, as a society, have decided is the best thing for poor people. They are a direct result of us not caring enough to put in place humane and dignified systems and programs to ensure that the most vulnerable among us don't slip through the cracks. In some of the discussions I see over predatory lenders, this is implicitly suggested. It needs to be explicit. Because lots of people don't make the connection, and getting everyone wound up about these lenders without an understanding of how they fit into a system that we're all responsible for, not only does nothing for the actual people it's harming, but may even harm them more.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:05 AM on August 18, 2016 [15 favorites]

Hey, JHarris, just want to say, even though I don't usually comment in these threads I REALLY appreciate you aggregating everything for us. It's a noble service you provide and I thank you.
posted by phunniemee at 7:53 AM on August 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

Thanks much! I wish I had the time and energy to research the stories deeper and report on them like I used to, but these things are limited for me alas. I still think LWT would be greatly served with a website extra, presenting the direct results of their research and providing jumping-off points for people wanting to find out more for themselves.
posted by JHarris at 2:41 PM on August 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

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