I seem to have touched off quite a mini-storm on the Occupy Wall Street forum — you can read my post and the fascinating responses here.
Here’s what has happened:
I have stopped paying my credit card bills. All of them. Just stopped paying them.
This wasn’t initially my plan. I mean, yes, I sort of threw up the idea for argument’s sake over the summer. But I never took the idea too seriously. I’d been thinking for some time about how to tackle my credit card debt more aggressively (transferring them to a zero-interest card, taking a debt consolidation loan, &c) because, frankly, I simply don’t make that much and, being self-employed, my income is incredibly variable. Thus, throwing four to five hundred dollars a month at balances that simply refused to go down — due to obscenely high interest rates and my inability to make more than the minimum payment — was quickly becoming unsustainable, and just plain stupid. My intention was still to pay down the debt I had accrued, just hopefully on better terms.
Occupy Wall Street changed all that. It became clear that it was time — past time — to start thinking more creatively about how to reclaim my — our — financial future. So I decided, after much discussion and with the support of my spouse, to deliberately default on my credit cards and let the chips fall where they may.
I should reiterate, I did not take this course lightly. Taking into account the impact on my credit rating, our ability to borrow in the future, and the sheer aggravation of collections calls, we still decided it was the best way to go. If my goal had simply been greater financial flexibility, I probably wouldn’t have come to that conclusion. I can’t deny that the extra four hundred a month has made it easier to meet our household expenses, and I don’t regret having the ability to put money into the local economy.
But it’s about more than the money. It’s about protesting a fundamentally unjust system that I, and millions of other Americans, have become completely fed up with.
As I have argued on many, many occasions, it is simply absurd that American taxpayers essentially fronted seven-hundred billion dollars to the banking industry so that it could clear its books of bad assets while at the same time those same taxpayers have been left on their own. Banks have been all but washed clean of their reckless behavior, but individual Americans are expected to nobly suffer the consequences of their own.
When I say that, am I implying that individuals engaging in reckless behavior should face no negative repercussions? Quite the opposite. What I am saying is that is absolutely intolerable that we must watch while the industry that drove our country to near-ruin has not borne its share of the punishment. And if they are getting off scot-free, then why, in any sort of just world, are Americans not offered at least some shot at redemption?
We live in a two-tiered world, where a class of people (by which I mean corporations, who are considered people in the eyes of the law) are able to engage in practices so risky as to bring the economy to a screeching halt, and then essentially be rewarded for those practices with bailouts, while the rest of us are left no option but to suffer not only for our mistakes, but for theirs as well.
I have argued in the past, and will continue to argue, that across-the-board debt relief is the surest route to economic recovery. Unleashing the consumer potential of the American middle class is an option that remains untapped. And why? Because there is simply no political will to force the banking industry to take a loss. No political will to do this, in spite of the fact that, to put it bluntly, the banks owe us one.
There is a way to do this — simply, orderly, and responsibly. I would much prefer to do it that way. But in the absence of any assistance offered to individual Americans like myself, I am declaring my own debt-relief program.