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Free market bingo

Love in vain

Mick and the boys:

Credit

I’ll never forget the time I was turned down for a job after acing the interview — because of my credit rating. God knows, a good credit rating is necessary to write ad copy:

The credit reporting industry likes to argue that credit checks reveal something about an individual’s character or ability to act responsibly. But two recent newspaper reports underscore just how dubious a proposition this is: this weekend, the New York Times scrutinized the destructive toll out-of-control medical bills can take on credit, while the Columbus Dispatchtrained its sights on the frequency of credit reporting errors. 

The Columbus Dispatch has launched a four-part investigation exploring the prevalence of errors in credit reports and the fiendish difficulty of getting them corrected. In fact, theDispatch finds, “Americans are left virtually powerless to erase the mistakes.”

During a yearlong investigation, The Dispatch collected and analyzed nearly 30,000 consumer complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general in 24 states that alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act by the three largest credit-reporting agencies in the United States — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.


Industry observers say it is among the most comprehensive reviews ever conducted of complaints against credit-reporting agencies.


The complaints document the inability of consumers to correct errors that range from minor to financially devastating. Consumers said the agencies can’t even correct the most obvious mistakes: That’s not my birth date. That’s not my name. I’m not dead.


Nearly a quarter of the complaints to the FTC and more than half of the complaints to the attorneys general involved mistakes in consumers’ financial accounts for credit cards, mortgages or car loans. Houses sold in bank-approved “short sales,” at less than the value of the mortgage, were listed as foreclosures. Car loans that had been paid off were reported as repossessions. Credit cards that had been paid off and closed years earlier showed as delinquent.

As Demos demonstrated in our report, “Discrediting America,” credit reporting errors can have a devastating impact. The Columbus Dispatch found something similar, powerfully documenting “the plight of thousands who, through no fault of their own, have been denied the chance to buy a home or a car, take out a loan for college, rent an apartment, land a job, join the Armed Forces, receive medical care or even open a checking account.”


Even if no error occurred, bad credit may have more to do with unavoidable medical expensesthan any underlying character flaw, suggests the New York Times report. Because a growing portion of medical providers’ revenues come directly from patients, the Times finds, doctors and hospitals are turning over more debt to collection agencies, and turning it over more quickly.

FICO, which produces one of the most popular credit scores used by lenders, said it viewed different types of collection agency accounts — medical-related or otherwise — as equally damaging. For someone with a spotless credit history, “it wouldn’t surprise me if their score dropped by 100 points or more [due to a late medical bill],” said Frederic Huynh, a principal analytic scientist at FICO. And the blemish does not entirely disappear for seven years.

Contraception

Melinda Gates hopes to start a worldwide resurgence in contraception.

Where’d everyone go?

My statistics show that almost half of SG readers are gone in the past three weeks. I don’t know if it’s just me, or other bloggers. Anyone have an idea?

I’m so tired

An alternate studio take of the Beatles song.

After austerity

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz:

NEW YORK – This year’s annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund made clear that Europe and the international community remain rudderless when it comes to economic policy. Financial leaders, from finance ministers to leaders of private financial institutions, reiterated the current mantra: the crisis countries have to get their houses in order, reduce their deficits, bring down their national debts, undertake structural reforms, and promote growth. Confidence, it was repeatedly said, needs to be restored.

It is a little precious to hear such pontifications from those who, at the helm of central banks, finance ministries, and private banks, steered the global financial system to the brink of ruin – and created the ongoing mess. Worse, seldom is it explained how to square the circle. How can confidence be restored as the crisis economies plunge into recession? How can growth be revived when austerity will almost surely mean a further decrease in aggregate demand, sending output and employment even lower?

This we should know by now: markets on their own are not stable. Not only do they repeatedly generate destabilizing asset bubbles, but, when demand weakens, forces that exacerbate the downturn come into play. Unemployment, and fear that it will spread, drives down wages, incomes, and consumption – and thus total demand. Decreased rates of household formation – young Americans, for example, are increasingly moving back in with their parents – depress housing prices, leading to still more foreclosures. States with balanced-budget frameworks are forced to cut spending as tax revenues fall – an automatic destabilizer that Europe seems mindlessly bent on adopting.

There are alternative strategies. Some countries, like Germany, have room for fiscal maneuver. Using it for investment would enhance long-term growth, with positive spillovers to the rest of Europe. A long-recognized principle is that balanced expansion of taxes and spending stimulates the economy; if the program is well designed (taxes at the top, combined with spending on education), the increase in GDP and employment can be significant.

Europe as a whole is not in bad fiscal shape; its debt-to-GDP ratio compares favorably with that of the United States. If each US state were totally responsible for its own budget, including paying all unemployment benefits, America, too, would be in fiscal crisis. The lesson is obvious: the whole is more than the sum of its parts. If Europe – particularly the European Central Bank – were to borrow, and re-lend the proceeds, the costs of servicing Europe’s debt would fall, creating room for the kinds of expenditure that would promote growth and employment.

There are already institutions within Europe, such as the European Investment Bank, that could help finance needed investments in the cash-starved economies. The EIB should expand its lending. There need to be increased funds available to support small and medium-size enterprises – the main source of job creation in all economies – which is especially important, given that credit contraction by banks hits these enterprises especially hard.

Europe’s single-minded focus on austerity is a result of a misdiagnosis of its problems. Greece overspent, but Spain and Ireland had fiscal surpluses and low debt-to-GDP ratios before the crisis. Giving lectures about fiscal prudence is beside the point. Taking the lectures seriously – even adopting tight budget frameworks – can be counterproductive. Regardless of whether Europe’s problems are temporary or fundamental – the eurozone, for example, is far from an “optimal” currency area, and tax competition in a free-trade and free-migration area can erode a viable state – austerity will make matters worse.
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Yep

Duncan:

Our banking system has essentially become a government backed system of criminal fraud.

Max Keiser

On the need for mass arrests:

Tremors

Europe is at a crossroads now, and you can rest assured that the Powers That Be will be trying to influence the new leadership in whatever friendly way they can to change their minds about austerity – and in some not-so-friendly ways as well. The reality is, governments usually do what the IMF and the World Bank “persuade” them to do. The persuading has probably already begun:

Socialist Francois Hollande defeated conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy today to become France’s next president, heralding a change in how Europe tackles its debt crisis and how France flexes its military and diplomatic muscle around the world.

Exuberant, diverse crowds filled the Place de la Bastille, the iconic plaza of the French Revolution, to fete Hollande’s victory, waving French, European and labor union flags and climbing its central column. Leftists are overjoyed to have one of their own in power for the first time since Socialist Francois Mitterrand was president from 1981 to 1995.

“Austerity can no longer be inevitable!” Hollande declared in his victory speech Sunday night after a surprising campaign that saw him transform from an unremarkable, mild figure to an increasingly statesmanlike one.

Sarkozy is the latest victim of a wave of voter anger at government spending cuts around Europe that have tossed out governments and leaders over the past couple of years.

[…] Hollande inherits an economy that’s a driver of the European Union but is deep in debt. He wants more government stimulus, and more government spending in general, despite concerns in the markets that France needs to urgently trim its huge debt.

While some market players have worried about a Hollande presidency, Jeffrey Bergstrand, professor of finance at the University of Notre Dame, said it’s a good thing that Hollande will push for more spending throughout Europe to stimulate the economy.

Europe is “going into a really serious and poor situation,” Bergstrand said. Hollande “is going to become the speaker for those countries that want to do something about economic growth.”

Meanwhile, the situation in Greece after yesterday’s election is much more volatile as long as they remain chained to the euro. The country is dependent on loans from the European Union and the IMF just to survive, and they will release those funds only if Greece continues to beggar her own people:

In a surprise result, Greece’s Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, which seeks to annul the austerity program, saw its share of the vote more than triple, to 16.2% of the vote and 50 seats—making it the second-largest party in parliament, the ministry projections showed.

Greece’s Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, saw its share of the vote more than triple to 15.5%-18.5%-making it the second-largest party in parliament, exit polls showed. Alkman Granitsas reports from Athens.
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