COLUMBIA — "Debt is like any other trap — easy enough to get into, but hard enough to get out of." – Henry Wheeler Shaw.
If anyone thinks being unemployed and broke is the worst condition to be in, think again.
Even with all of the negatives that accompany being poverty-stricken, being poor and in debt is worse.
Most of us are probably affected by someone close to us experiencing the consequences of debt. Too many of us are in debt or near debt ourselves. None of us are immune from its direct or indirect impact.
Students, military families, the working poor, veterans, the elderly and even the middle class are all vulnerable.
Institutions engulf us in debt throughout our lives, starting at the moment of birth for some. Debt continues into education, health care, courts and even religion in many cases.
Much of this indebtedness is occurring without sufficient education about consumer pitfalls. While lending and credit can be legitimate tools for economic activity, the misuse of spending, lending, credit — and its exorbitant fees — plus endless compounding interest, create a sad, even devastating, situation.
Just as the economies of countries and corporations all over the world are victims of this debt syndrome, so too are many states, cities and neighborhoods.
We are all aware of the havoc that results from excessive consumerism, poor spending and borrowing. Yet none of us appear to be immune from engaging in this dangerous practice.
Illness, disasters, job loss, under-employment, as well as devaluation of currency, can all contribute to debt. We are all vulnerable to, or victims of, the predatory credit practices by greedy lenders with no social conscience. They earn their income from providing nothing more than diabolical and devious means of sweeping us into a contaminated, contagious pattern of debt.
Being poor does not prevent further debt either. No longer are down payments, material collateral, credit ratings or employment required to get a loan.
Lenders bet on future potential to insure people and organizations in their credit practices. They even peddle insurance on toxic contracts.
Many lenders capitalize on the absence of traditional equity to replace traditional lending practices with less savory ones. Payday loans, auto loans and check-cashing services proliferate in our cities.
The judicial system is fraught with an assortment of vehicles to trap anyone who might be arrested. Bail and legal expenses await prisoners and their dear ones.
Parents and other relatives of inmates are sometimes encouraged to mortgage property to obtain lighter sentences for their imprisoned relatives.
We can’t even opt out of this syndrome by dying. Funeral expenses can also push families further into debt.
For too many, being broke is only the doorway to further pain and suffering. Being the victim of unscrupulous lenders and usurious practices give rise to the phrase "the poor pay more." Much more.
The poor might hurt most, but we all pay too much. Too few protective policies, programs and practices exist to address injurious lending, borrowing and credit practices.
Too many bankers, legislators and assorted service providers and entrepreneurs have become complicit in these practices.
We must create laws that protect us from these practices. Truth-in-lending laws are too weak.
We need to reinstate the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, the law that created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and was systematically repealed over the years,or create something new.
We must hold perpetrators of unsavory practices legally accountable.
William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU.