Griftopia by Matt Taibbihttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=theg0c5-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B003F3FJS2&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr
You know how you have to take out the trash, or clean the kitchen, or pull weeds? There is always something you have to do around the house that you don’t want to do. It’s not exciting, but it’s important. Or, at first it seems like it’s not exciting. Maybe it’s like painting a room or cleaning the garage. You dread doing it, but once you get into it, you realize how worthwhile it is.
Reading Griftopia is a little like that. I mean, if I say, “Hey, here’s a great book about how the economy totally screws us. It explains all the stuff like credit default swaps, derivatives, adjustable rate mortgages and other ways that corporations and big banks have come up with to really ruin your life.” I imagine most people would rather go watch a nice TV program.
That’s part of the problem, I think. Or, rather, for the banks and government, it’s part of the solution. It allows them to keep doing what they’re doing because a) we don’t understand the nature of what they’re doing and b) it’s super boring and abstract.
If I walk up to you, point a gun at you, and demand all your money, that’s a straight up robbery. We all get it. And, it’s pretty exciting, too. We’d love to read a newspaper story about that, right? If I tell you how my house got broken into and all my stuff ripped off, that’s very tangible. You can see how that was wrong. But, if I say that I was looking for a new house and the real estate agent put me in touch with “his guy” that did the financing, and, in speaking with the financial guy, I found out that there were ways to get me qualified for a loan. And, then, when I expressed some concern, the guy said it was okay, that lots of people do it this way. So, they get me qualified for a loan and tell me it’s an adjustable rate. This is explained as a good way to get the loan because the payments are low right now, so it’s affordable and they can get me into this house (and I really want to get into this house, too) but later, like in five years, the rate adjusts higher. But, that’s okay because, well, the economy is awesome right now and housing prices are shooting upward so I can go ahead and refinance at that point and my higher income (my income will, of course, go up as that always happens, right?) will allow me to get a more favorable loan. Plus the equity in my house will help, too.
So, I take this loan. I sign one document after another in front of a notary whom I just met. She isn’t a finance person. She just works for the mortgage company and gets people like me to sign. I never meet the finance guy. The real estate agent is not here either. So, I sign what seems like 50 documents. And, the house is mine. The loan funds. I move in. A month later, I get a letter stating that my loan has been sold to some other mortgage company. I’ve never heard of either of them, by the way.
A few years later, the economy tanks. My job is in danger. My credit is way overextended and my bills are starting to pile up past due. I try to call the mortgage company but they are not interested in any kind of excuses. They want their payment, that’s all. I explain how our household income has dropped and now my loan rate is adjusting. I can’t afford this payment. There is no sympathy on the other end of the phone. This is not the real estate agent that found me the house. It’s not the financial wizard that got me the loan. It’s not even that notary that signed the documents with me. I don’t know this person and they don’t know me. Soon, I’m getting calls from other companies. I’m six months late on this other credit card. I didn’t mean for it to happen but the bottom dropped out of my household. My wife quit her job and we don’t have the income, now. This guy on the other end of the phone is not interested. He just wants to get money from me. He ridiculously offers me a lump sum settlement of several thousand dollars. I laugh. If I had that money, would I be talking to him?
My house is in foreclosure. What can I do? I can’t make the payments now. I’m getting divorced. We go for a short sale. The only bright spot is that I don’t have to pay any taxes on the difference between what I owed and what I am selling the house for. They forgive the remainder of my loan. In total, I sell the house for about $130K less than what I paid for it. Turns out I bought the house near the top of the housing bubble. Bad luck for me, I guess.
Or was it? Was it bad luck? Or was I preyed upon? See, because that real estate agent wasn’t dumb. I told him how much money I made. I told the same thing to the financial wizard. Of course, no one put a gun to my head and made me sign. So, that just makes me irresponsible, right? But, then again, I don’t have any experience with this stuff. I’ve never bought a house before and never had to deal with such a complex financial transaction before. Everyone I talked to seemed to think it was a good thing. But, shouldn’t that financial guy have known this would happen? I think so. But, what does he care? He got his fees, as did the real estate guy. And, basically, I paid rent in the form of a mortgage payment for four years until my house foreclosed.
Now that I’ve read about it in Griftopia, I see what happened there. Mine was just a small story amid so many others like it. It wasn’t bad luck. It was all part of a way to make billions off of middle and lower class workers like myself for bankers. My loan was part of a pool of loans that got bought and sold and bet on and insured and finally collected on and bailed out by the government. I realize now that the reason the bank forgave my loan was because, way up the chain, they knew the government would bail them out.
You need to read this book.
The bankers and government are relying upon you to remain ignorant of the scam. This is how they get it done. People like me didn’t understand the transactions. So, we went along with it. And they got richer.
But, if you don’t like reading so much, spend the time and watch this movie.
This movie covers some of the same ground as Griftopia but focuses a lot more closely on the foreclosures and mortgage scams. Griftopia details other parts of the economy like spiking gas prices and commodities markets, both of which are illegally manipulated. Well, maybe “illegally” is a strong term since, technically, the law was broken as much as it was bent. But, then again, the bankers and traders essentially used their wealth to have lots of the loans rewritten so they didn’t have to break the law.
Strong words? Well, watch the movie. The same dudes that used to work on Wall St. are President Obama’s advisors. Timothy Geithner. Lawrence Summers. I mean, come on. These guys are totally co-opted by Wall St. I didn’t know this before reading the book and watching the movie. But, I do now.
So, for the future. Honestly, it looks bleak. We have taught the government that we can be made complacent and take whatever they give us. We will give up freedom for security from terrorism. We will give up our money to save banks that are “too big to fail” because we are ignorant of the complex financial transactions that they devised and they tell us we can’t understand. We will allow our country to be put into debt because we can’t take the time to learn the facts.
Cliche alert: If you think education is expensive, you should try ignorance.
But, it’s true. Our ignorance cost our country hundreds of billions of dollars. We spent so much money bailing out Wall St. that we could have paid off every mortgage in the country. But, we didn’t do that. We gave the money away to the bankers. Why give taxpayer money to average folks? Why? Because debt keeps us in line. It keeps us beholden. Think it doesn’t work? Well, ask Saudi Arabia how it’s working for them? We didn’t launch cruise missiles into Bahrain this week.
The future is written. We will serve the corporate state. We will accept whatever they give us. We will ignore obvious inconsistencies. We will do whatever they want because Charlie Sheen did a lot of cocaine and had sex with hookers. Crazy, right? I know.