#OWS, Educate Thyself - Credit and Banks (Part 2)

October 22, 2011   11:28 am

Previously in this series - Part 1 - Introduction

Credit is a big part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. They want debt forgiven, some even calling for an across-the-board forgiveness of all debt. By having this demand, they reveal another area where their college education has failed them. Let’s do a quick version of what they should have learned.

To illustrate, let’s create a hypothetical scenario. Person 1 (let’s call him “Bill”) has a business idea, but lacks the funds to make it a reality. Bill is sure that his idea will make lots of money, but he is frustrated because he cannot implement his idea. Person 2 (let’s call him “Tom”) has money that he has accumulated that he is not actively using. Bill comes to Tom and asks if he can borrow some of Tom’s extra money, so that he can implement his awesome idea. Tom is not sure about the purported awesomeness of Bill’s idea, and is reluctant to lend Bill the money. Bill is so confident in his idea that he offers to repay Tom 110% of the money that he wants to borrow. This provides Tim an opportunity for financial gain, and he decides to lend Bill the money he needs.

This story illustrates some of the basic concepts of credit.

  • Loan - money belonging to someone else, that is temporarily made available to another person.
  • Interest - money, in addition to the loan amount, that is paid to the lender.
  • Risk - the likelihood that the loan and interest will not be repaid.

In our story, a 10% interest rate was enough to make Tom assume the risk that Bill’s idea would generate the money Bill thought that it would.

Banks and other lending institutions have simply taken the above scenario and enlarged its scale. They take depositors’ money, and lend it to those who need it. They also provide services, such as securing the money they’ve received, providing convenient ways for people to get to their money. For some services, banks charge fees; for some services, banks pay interest. Because banks must be able to return depositor’s money on demand, they must assess risk before giving a loan. Some risk they simply will not accept; some risk they will accept, but charge the borrower a higher rate on the money to make up for it; and low risk is generally acceptable.

Student loans, a particular interest item to the #OWS set, are no exception. It is understood that obtaining an education may require money that a fresh-out-of-high-school person probably does not have. (Whether it should is a different topic altogether.) However, lending institutions see the value in having an educated populace, and are willing to extend loans to students to allow them to obtain productive skills. They realize that college-educated people are more likely to have good jobs, buy cars and homes, take vacations, and do lots of other things that inject money into an economy.

So, what’s the problem with them forgiving loans? It’s theft, plain and simple. Whoever was extended credit would be stealing the money not from the bank, but from the depositors of that bank. The bank is simply an intermediary set up to provide a mutually-beneficial service to both saver and borrower. (I’ll tackle the class warfare aspect in the next post, but it’s still their money no matter how much they have left.)

Another assumption regarding student loans is that the degree obtained will help this happen; with many degrees these days, a person may be no more qualified to hold employment than they were before they went to college. When I went through college right out of high school, my adviser recommended certain degrees as being more employable than others. I don’t know if colleges don’t have that, or if advisers these days think that we really need a ton of Fill-in-the-Blank Studies degrees; either way, that sort of degree has limited employment opportunity. If you obtained that sort of degree, and now can’t get a job, you rolled the dice and lost. Now, it’;s time to act like a grown up and get whatever work you can to provide for you (and your family, if you have one), and start repaying that loan you took out.

David Burge (AKA Iowa Hawk), via Twitter, provides a nice summary on this point.

Lemme get this straight. A bank lent you $100k that you handed to a college for a worthless degree, and now you’re mad at… the bank?

Banks provide an important service by offering credit. If that credit is not repaid, the system collapses. If you think it’s hard getting a job now, try bankrupting all the employers, and see how much more plentiful (or scarce) the jobs become.

Next in this series - Part 3 - Income Inequality

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