Economics, Politics

Banks and repressed rage

Friday, 5th January 2018

from Jan. 5, 2018

Going into a bank, any bank, is for me an exercise in carefully repressed rage. The people who work there are generally perfectly nice. But it is all against a backdrop of sustained abuse and lack of respect for anyone who isn’t worth millions of dollars. My bank, Wells Fargo, is one of the worst, but there are few that are much better. From pouring gasoline on the mortgage crisis in the mid 00’s, to creating bogus accounts for customers, to lobbying for (and essentially writing) parts of the recent tax cut bill, which will be a $250 billion bonus for the financial services sector alone, the actions of this company at almost every turn, turns my stomach.

So, when I went in to try to cash a check from the insurance company to cover hurricane damage to our roof, I should have expected problems. Again, the employees are perfectly nice (and I don’t blame them – everyone needs a job), but the labyrinth of procedures to get the money from the insurance company to pay the contractor is crushing. The signal is loud and clear – people are not to be trusted, but banks must be trusted.

Well, I don’t. Which is why walking into a bank is always an exercise in repressed rage. The words and the actions don’t match up. Those nice employees say all the right things, even express sympathy. Those are words. And yet, at every turn, the actions speak far louder, and completely differently. And there is little or no consequence for bad behaviour (which undermines what a market is supposed to do, punish bad actors and reward good ones). Tax bills like the recent one reward all bad behaviour, and send the bill for that behaviour to those of us who have played by the rules, followed every good practice, and actually cared for those less fortunate.

So Wells Fargo is engaging in some publicity stunts, to show that they’re really good guys after all. Raise their minimum wage to $15 – hey, you liberals, you should love that, right? Isn’t that what you want? $400 million to “community organizations”, whatever that means. A drop in the bucket, compared to the slaps on the wrist they get for bad behaviour and the billions earned off of it. And, of course, this recent travesty of a tax bill, written by lobbyists and passed in the dead of night, with no discussion.

I know, the solution for many people is to go to local banks, smaller credit unions, that sort of thing. That’s not really an answer, or rather, that’s an answer that personalizes and individualizes the problem. We imagine that if enough of us did that, the market would work its magic, punish the bad actors, and restore the will of the people.

Except that it won’t. The market doesn’t work like that, or rather, it only works like that in Republican fantasies. It’s way, way more complex, and there is no such cause-and-effect relationship that can confer any moral response. Opting for a credit union might make me feel better, somewhat diminish the rage I feel when I enter the doors of these brothels, but it doesn’t really solve much.

I continue to try to get the money for our roof damage out of this bank. Apparently I only need to submit a small pallet of documents, to ensure that I, the morally suspect one in this relationship, actually use the money to fix the roof. Because I am the one we should be worrying about, not a corporation that profited on the misery of millions with impunity.

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