Monday, July 07, 2008

The Smiley Marquette Show

While watching the weekend programming on CNBC and MSNBC, jazzed out of my mind on Butterscotch Krimpets and caffeine, it occurred to me that the debtors who phone in to The Suze Orman Show on CNBC are way less rationale than the sex perverts and murderers profiled on the MSNBC doc-bloc programs. At least the pervert/murderers are goal-oriented.

Oh the tales of financial insanity poor Suze hears: hellacious ARMs on generously appraised houses; HELOCs used to fund trips to Aruba; 5-year, interest-only balloon mortgages on vacation homes; rampaging $25,000-plus credit card debt at 22% and up; $18,000 upside-down car loans; $60,000 worth of student loans for a crappy associate’s degree from a crappy community college; and $382 in savings, presumably in loose change.

Some people would call in with ominous financial details, oblivious to the direness of their straits, and want to know if they could afford something like cheerleading lessons for their twin daughters at approximately $4000 a year or a $6000 designer handbag or scuba diving gear or breast implants or some other consumer silliness.

And after she points out the errors of their ways and offers some hope and helpful suggestions, Suze always reassures the callers that they’re not bad people for having got themselves into such fixes. Which is true. They’re not bad people. In fact, they’re the best kind of consumers on the planet: innumerate, non-readers of the fine print, and trusting to the point of being infantile.

The Suze Orman Show should really be called The Smiley Marquette Show because without Smiley and without Marquette -- and of course without the 2005 federal bankruptcy law -- Suze would pretty much have nothing to talk about.

Back in 1978, the US Supreme Court, in the Marquette case, deregulated credit-card interest rates and the credit-card companies set up shop in those states with either no usury laws or very weak usury laws (think South Dakota, think Delaware). In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled in Smiley v Citibank that credit-card companies could charge any fees that were allowed by the home state in which a credit-card company was based.

And once enough consumers got themselves into deep enough trouble, our elected representatives decided that we needed to be taught a good lesson and revised the federal consumer bankruptcy laws. And they had the well-lobbied balls to call it The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act.

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