In Which I Am Compared to the Devil
One legislative sponsor of legislation to cap interest rates on Missouri’s payday loans, responded to my op-ed on the subject in this Sunday’s edition of the Joplin Globe. The end of the response quotes a line from The Merchant of Venice about the devil’s ability to use scripture for his own purposes, as a way of criticizing my use of fairly basic statistics provided by the payday loan industry. I’m not entirely certain whether this is meant to imply that I am the devil, or that payday lenders are, but I find it oddly flattering. No one has ever written about me as though I possess superhuman powers.
Hyperbole aside, the piece does make some good points about the lack of transparency in the hearing. Only representatives of the industry were allowed to speak, and the chairman of the committee does own a payday lending business — a clear conflict of interest. Although I happen to agree with the industry in this instance, the political process should be an open one. In the long run, legislative stalling and one-sided presentations will not preserve a healthy democracy or the free market. (It is worth pointing out, however, that town hall meetings on the issue also presented only the opposing side of the debate. Admittedly, those were not official government hearings, but the principle remains the same.) An open market produces better outcomes than a monopoly, and I believe that rule applies just as much to ideas as to physical goods and services.
Finally, I think this phrase shows a misunderstanding of my argument: “Mr. Payne’s point that usury today is not as bad as it was in Shakespeare’s time provides little comfort to the working poor and to those trapped in a spiral of debt.” My point is that if payday lending is regulated out of existence, people who currently rely on those loans for short-term credit will be forced to seek out loan sharks every bit as brutal as Shylock, who will demand a pound of flesh from those who cannot pay up.