I hate taking on a friend, but Tony Ianelli’s lip-synch of the payday lenders’ talking points defending a despicable loan product is pretty sad (June 26). Tony is a friend of many years. He has done outstanding work at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. But the product Tony thinks would be good for economic development would charge poor souls who can’t pay their bills about 300% so they won’t be able to pay even more bills. Apparently, he thinks his members are missing out on an opportunity to make money ripping off the folks whose wages are insufficient to pay their rent. And in an act of compassion, he expresses regret that folks have to cross state lines to get taken.
I am also appalled that the supporters of payday lending would call such predatory products “microloans.” The connotation is one of extending credit to people who are worthy but not ready for conventional financing. The Grameen Bank comes to mind, as does the lending done by our community development financial institution, The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, which makes loans to local micro-enterprises. These are good; payday loans are bad. Calling them “microloans” is downright cynical. It is like stabbing someone in the back and calling it “surgery.”
Friends, there is Biblical precedent for opposing such usury. Surely by now, more than 2,000 years later, and still aching from an economy laid low by just such predatory lending, we have learned some lessons and progressed enough as a society to agree that ripping off people whose marginal wages force them to live crisis to crisis might be a bad thing.