17 May 2009

"My Personal Credit Crisis"

We all read daily about the financial crisis in the paper but I think when we look through a lens focused down to a micro, personal level it becomes much more scary. NPR had a couple of great 'This American Life' shows where they explained how and why we have gotten to where we are. Besides those episodes, this article in the NY Times, "My Personal Credit Crisis", is one of the realest and intimate looks at how the crunch happens and what it feels like when it does.
People complain and accuse the big corporations of greed and irresponsible banking, but the same can be said for a lot of individuals. Yes the banking industry failed at its job.
"I am here to enable dreams,” he explained to me long afterward. Bob’s view was that if I’d been unemployed for seven years and didn’t have a dime to my name but I wanted a house, he wouldn’t question my prudence. “Who am I to tell you that you shouldn’t do what you want to do? I am here to sell money and to help you do what you want to do. At the end of the day, it’s your signature on the mortgage — not mine."
That kind of thought process makes no sense. Most individuals are not financially-trained experts in analyzing budgets, risk and making tough impartial decisions on debt. That is what the bankers/lenders are supposed to do.
But the irresponsibility and greed is also definitely present in the individual. This author, for instance, if he knew that his monthly budget left him "barely enough to make ends meet in a one-bedroom rental apartment" then what thought process would make him think that taking on a $2500 a month mortgage could work? And he is an economics reporter???
Even though it is a bit long, I want to figure out a way to use this story in my classroom since we are in our chapter on credit right now. Be smart people!


  1. While I haven't read the article yet, this seems to me to demonstrate a fundamental flaw in classical economics and Enlightenment thought: we are not simply rational calculators, and our "thinking" mind, which works slowly and only with effort, needs extra attention. Indeed, our reasoning, rational mind is often functions most importantly as a "no" device. I'm currently listening to Jonah Lerner's How We Decide (2009) the latest of a string of recent publications addressing this general area. It's fascinating stuff--an old problem seen in a new light with the aid of neuro-scientific breakthroughs, and a topic of professional as well as personal interest.

  2. good point.
    we are emotional creatures. and, although it may look insane to the outside observer, we often make decisions emotionally that make little rational sense.