Friday, July 6, 2007

Maxed Out: the review

To say I enjoyed this film would be an understatement.
To say I am enraged right now would also be an understatement.

Overall I would say this a great film, you should go out and buy it right now - however, it's most likely not at your local Blockbuster or at your local library.

Anyway before I get too far off track let me proceed with the review:

In my opinion there are about 5 main areas that Mr. Scurlock covers in his documentary
  1. Debt Collectors
  2. Credit Cards
  3. Bankruptcy/Foreclosure
  4. The new(old) two-tiered America
  5. America: Debtor Nation once again
First there are the Debt Collectors: Scurlock focuses in on enterprising businessmen in the greater Minneapolis metro area that buy past-due debt from larger companies for pennies on the dollar and then themselves attempt to collect the debt that these people generally are unable to pay. They attempt several different strategies to obtain payment on the debt from calling debtors neighbors in order to pass a message down the street to the debtor, to threatening a debtor their friends and family will be informed of previously unknown debt if they do not start making payments immediately.

Credit Cards are the main focus of this documentary. In particular, the big banks that prey specifically on those who cannot afford to pay their outstanding balance BUT, can afford to make the minimum payments and little else. One of my favorite snippets of the movie is when the Harvard Professor [Elizabeth Warren?](who is also my favorite interviewee) relates her experience giving a lecture/seminar to major bank who asked her to speak on the causes and solutions to Bankruptcy.

  • She explained in detail her findings and her main point was the fact that if Credit card companies would screen their more high risk applicants out a little bit better, 50% of the bankruptcies in America would immediately stop. There was a little bit of discussion amongst the bankers and after a while a hand in the back went up. The crowd of bankers quickly became silent and it was obvious that the man raising his hand was a superior of most in the room. Professor Warren asked the man for his question and he quickly spoke up and said "but Professor Warren, if we get rid of those 50% of customers that are 'high risk' we will also lose our most profitable client base." So in essence the uber-rich make their money off the backs of the [working] super-poor. ..sound familiar?
There are also examples of how credit cards devastated the lives of some young college students. Very much worth watching.

Scurlock focuses in on a few examples in this category. One is a widow who decided to pay her bills by using Cash Advances and is in danger of losing her house in the process. Another is a case of a presumably uneducated black mother in Mississippi and her mentally disabled son who received assistance from the loan representative signing his name on loan papers.

The new two-tiered America is actually something that is not that new. Credit cards and massive debt appears to be essentially another manifestation of the rich few having power and control over the poor & middle class masses. Before it was credit cards, it was Share cropping. Before sharecropping it was slavery. Before slavery there was serfdom. And so it goes through history - the fact that you are reading this right now makes it very likely you are not on the bad end of this timeless equation or at least are striving not to be.

The 5th and final Point that Scurlock brings up is the increasingly obvious fact that America is becoming more and more of a debtor nation. Scurlock interviews the daughter/granddaughter of the inventor of the National Debt clock [a smaller version of which, is attached to the right of this blog at the time of this post]. He shows old (at least 20+ year old) footage of Dan Rather announcing for the first time in quite a while (probably since slave days) America actually owes more to foreign countries than what we can possibly pay back anytime soon.

I'm not a complete history buff but, wasn't the last time everybody was living a gay life off credit right before the Great Depression which in turn eventually turned into World War II? Hopefully Depression II and WWIII will be the kinder gentler versions...

I'll leave you with this special message from My friend and yours...Mr. Money:

  • *One added note - Scurlock brings up one interesting fact(?) about a prior hero of mine - initials "S.O." "S." apparently has a contract with FICO (Fair Isaac) a company that works with the Experian credit bureau and that's why she is always mentioning your FICO score when there are also two other scores that are less mentioned: there is the Beacon score which is used by the Equifax credit bureau. There is also the Emprica score that is used by the Trans Union credit bureau. I knew there were two other scores since I used to work at a credit Bureau but I kept forgetting their names since FICO was sort of stamped into my head.

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