The consumer credit market is broken. While the average credit card contract was a single page in 1980, it is now more than 30 pages. Instead of competing for business on straightforward terms, creditors advertise one price and then bury tricks and traps in the fine print. That tricks and traps are called “revenue enhancers” in the industry, and they hide the trust cost of credit and make it impossible for consumers to compare products and shop for better deals. The proliferation of deceptive products has magnified risk at the family level, eliminated real consumer choice, reduced real competition, and driven the market to innovate by creating more tricks and traps rather than by serving customers.
The credit market is broken in large part because of the lack of meaningful rules. Consumer protection authority is currently scattered among seven federal agencies, and all of those agencies have failed to create effective rules for two structural reasons.
Wendell Berry’s article in the May Harper’s is out from behind the paywall. It’s a really interesting attempt to take moderns to task for their conflation of freedom with limitlessness and infinite progress. (My Metafilter post on Wendell Berry is the most popular thing I’ve ever done there, so go check it out if you don’t know who he is.) He takes the current economic slowdown as his springboard for a consideration of the problem of limits and limitless, and comes to some fairly standard Berry-iffic conclusions about appropriate technology and existential sustainability (which is part-and-parcel of environmental sustainability.)
To recover from our disease of limitlessness, we will have to give up the idea that we have a right to be godlike animals, that we are potentially omniscient and omnipotent, ready to discover “the secret of the universe.” We will have to start over, with a different and much older premise: the naturalness and, for creatures of limited intelligence, the necessity, of limits. We must learn again to ask how we can make the most of what we are, what we have, what we have been given. If we always have a theoretically better substitute available from somebody or someplace else, we will never make the most of anything. It is hard to make the most of one life. If we each had two lives, we would not make much of either.
Berry’s work is very close to the Heideggerian Deep Ecology movement, and so it’s worth reading him just to see how romantic environmentalism and localism remains a flourishing branch of our culture. My reflections on his reflections after the jump. Continue reading Wendell Berry on Faustian Economics