I first wrote about the issues I found with ridesharing apps (Uber, Lyft, SideCar, et al.) a few years ago. I haven’t addressed them much recently, but I don’t think I need to – cities and states and even nations are finally standing up to them, and, hopefully, overcoming core concerns in a way that satisfies the public’s (read: users’ and customers’) safety and experience.
Since that time, I’ve been studying debt (I have so much of it), capital flow, money and other financial and economic matters.
I know, boring, right?
This is why it interests me:
Students are graduating with an average $30,000 in education debt. (I still owe at least that much.) Credit card companies love recruiting on and around college campuses – so throw in a little credit card debt for new graduates, too.
A new graduate hits the market and BAM! he or she is knocked down by the poor economy (improving, but, if so, slowly), dearth of full-time positions and growth of freelance roles in their place), exorbitant student loan payments, high rents (if one plans to live in a city in which one can find a job) and so many other obstacles to even begin pursuing happiness, or, ultimately, liberty.
What does that give us? A whole bunch of people who, without support systems of family and the minimal social services offered by the government would be homeless. At best, one or two crises away from swirling in that direction.
What happens when people can’t support themselves or are making those rent-or-medication? decisions each month while spending the rest of their time looking for work? They fall back on the support systems above mentioned. I can think of very few, if any, other support services that offer direct help to such individuals (not including payday loan outlets).
I only want to talk about one of those support systems here, though:
One of the first – and sometimes only – places many Baby Boomers’ children turn to in financial crises is – that’s right – their parents. Socially, that seems far better than relying on taxpayer-funded services and support. So what’s the problem?
The majority of Baby Boomers aren’t walking around with a high net worth. They’re often already over-leveraged, and become even moreso when the kid(s) move home and their debts payments are added to their parents. This makes the huge assumption that one’s parents love their kids enough to try to save them from financial ruin. How many of those parents are also already on the hook for those cosigned student loans, as well?
Nor are Boomers, as they move toward retirement, well known for having bulked up their retirement accounts to support themselves in their non-working years. (The three legs of “social security” – pensions, savings and retirement accounts, and the government’s Social Security benefits – have been reduced to a precarious one and a half, at best.) Add Boomers’ returned child’s debt payments and other expenses to already overextended household finances only further destroys any retirement nest egg. That’s only exacerbated by the effects it will have today.
We already see many people in bankruptcy (legally recognized or not). I fear we will only see more.
I worry that entire families – multiple generations of families – could be driven to financial ruin. That would spell the end of upwards mobility for many millions. Socially, it could result in a tear in the traditional family from the overwhelming responsibilities and failures. Alternatively, it could cause a retrenchment – where families once again consolidate into multi-generational households. This could happen as a defensive measure. Everyone must pitch in to satisfy the debts of all.
I don’t think our current economic situation can persist much longer. The inequality – so detailed in its description of a general phenomenon – is so easy to see in the massive difference in suffering experienced by those children, new graduates and families without members of the upper classes and ready access to liquid capital and those who are, well, better off. (Let’s be honest: There is no such thing as a “middle class,” and “working class” is an even less helpful descriptor.)
Something has to change. I don’t know what. Or how. But it must. I’ve called for a Jubilee – but it would need to be well-regulated and independently controlled. Student loan debt should, naturally, be forgiven. Other excessive debts should be easier to negotiate. Companies and nations can significantly reduce and restructure their debts. Why can’t we?
(One could take another line of attack: Extending credit to someone means you trust them enough to pay you back, given all the information you have about them. The creditor makes that assumption. In fact, it makes the assumption it will earn back the money loaned and a nice chunk of extra money in interest fees. Now, if that person turns out to be a scofflaw – or, maybe, just maybe, a working, struggling single mother in a dilapidated neighborhood in Baltimore or a white boy in Texas who couldn’t find a decent-paying full-time gig for a number of years – who can’t or won’t pay his or her debt, you’ve lost your bet. Sorry. That’s how it goes. But we can’t look at it that way because it turns into a judicial matter. The creditor (the one with the money to lend) controls.)
I have a hard time seeing the current inhuman, socially damaging neoliberal economic policies functioning adequately for anyone much longer. I only hope others are beginning to seriously take note and question our current state of affairs, and that it might lead to action and reform. Much like concerns about ridesharing apps became a shared (worldwide) community issue that has led to fixes and discussions of the larger context in which those companies operate (worker rights, pay, safety, etc.).
But this is more important than Uber will ever be. If there’s no one to pay for a ride because they’ve all been eaten by their creditors, the company won’t long exist.