With successful films like Inside Job and The Big Short, the American people may finally be getting a handle on what really caused the 2008 financial crisis: Wall Street fraud. What has yet to be fully explored and comprehended is whether or how much the crisis changed the American people’s thinking on banking.
A positive change in thinking that seems to have come out of the 2008 financial crisis is a renewed skepticism of Wall Street’s claims about itself, especially the claim that the banksters can maintain a stable system by “self-regulating.” The ’08 crash made it exceedingly clear to most people that the financial services industry needs constant oversight or it will bring down the whole economy through reckless greed and its congenital criminality. This change in thinking has led to increased support for regulation and curtailing Wall Street’s economic and political power.
But losing trust in established financial institutions can bring negative changes in thinking too, if viable progressive alternatives are not presented – especially for younger Americans who typically have less knowledge and experience with finance.
According to the results of survey [PDF] performed by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University, 40% of millennials used a payday loan, pawnshop, tax refund advance or other alternative financial product in the past five years. In other words, many younger Americans have shifted to using the most predatory and parasitic financial services.
Some of this shift is likely not the result of a lack of knowledge but of desperation brought on by suffocating debts and the exhausting of traditional credit methods. Nonetheless, the best response to this horrifying trend is for all Americans, younger ones especially, to be informed of current progressive banking alternatives like credit unions as well as to be tought what they can do to manage and discharge their debts [PDF].
Part of the long term solution to predatory lending is to democratize banking with increased use of credit unions and the introduction of programs like postal banking. However, the ultimate solution is ensure that workers gain a larger share of the economy through increases in wages, which have been stagnant for over three decades.
Higher wages will not only prevent the need to us predatory financial institutions like payday lenders, they will also help level out a unequal society that is quickly spiraling down into a complete plutocracy.