Monday, March 3, 2008

Payday lenders and Conservative Christians: A Surprising Correlation

In a paper to be published this spring in the Catholic University Law Review, professor Christopher Peterson and Steven Graves find a surprising correlation between the geographic density of payday lenders and the political clout of conservative Christians.

Payday lenders have been gaining notoriety among consumer advocates for being predatory towards desperate, lower-income consumers. They offer small-ish loans to people in need of a quick fix for money. The catch? The exorbitant interest rates that are racked up as a result, which often leaves people in debt for much longer than they bargained for, or with loans that they are never able to repay.

Peterson and Graves essentially mapped out the densities of payday lenders and started to find that the regions with the highest densities were the Bible Belt and the Mormon mountain West. They also created a map indexing the political power of conservative Christian Americans. What they found was a strong correlation between the two.

Of course, the researchers note in a caveat that correlation is NOT the same as causation. They are not blaming the rise in payday/predatory lending on Christian conservatives. They are, however, noting that in regions where politically powerful (rich) conservative Christians exist, there are disproportionate numbers of payday lenders.

AND, given the Biblical condemnation of usury, it seems that there should be aggressive regulation and less demand for payday loans in such states where biblical literalists are rampant. Instead, the opposite is the reality. The state laws in these states are actually more permissive of this type of lending than in more socially liberal states. Throughout the Bible Belt and Mormon mountain West, there is relatively little regulation on this type of lending at all, which is clearly a causal factor.

But the authors must ask, "why?"

They offer their own hypothesis: that starting in the 1980s and 1990s powerful/rich social conservatives began to align themselves with Wall-Street business that were also socially conservative, which has been an effective way for them to push their pet agenda issues (abortion, "some sorts of family questions," and gun rights) in their states. The one roadblock to this political alliance has been consumer protection law and limits on usurious lending. As the alliance between the two factions have grown, the laws limiting predatory lending has fallen to the waste-side.

Another important note is that even compared to other issues that one would think should be stronger in correlation (poverty levels, race, income), the correlation between conservative Christian political power and payday lenders is the strongest.

Reading the comments section was an interesting mix of outraged sheeple and the non-surpised social liberals.

Among other comments: "It seems obvious to me. Evangelicals, Fundamentalists and Mormons oft times refer to their parishioners as their flock, and where their are more sheep, more sheep are slaughtered. Perhaps less time studying the Bible, and more time studying math might move these enclaves forward in time?

When a culture is rooted in financial exploitation by charlatan preachers for generations, is it any wonder these fools can be manipulated by charlatan bankers?"

and

"Posted By: isaidit @ 02/26/2008 3:54:48 PM
Comment: The Christian faith, as it is practiced today in the U.S., is as harmful to the common man as the pagan societies it saved him from 2000 years ago. The Christian right has aligned itself with the most extreme and harshest of libertarian republicans, and then breaks with them on the issues of drugs and doctor assisted suicide, which one can't be blamed for choosing after a lifetime of being exploited and strangled by big business, only to be faced with staggering healthcare costs in the end. I understand this may not be real Christianity, but it rules the day in this country, and encourages those of us who should fight the plutocrat menace to wait and hope for them take their foot off our cllective[sic] necks instead."

Basically, I am being convinced a bit more every day that the "Christian conservative/social conservative movement" is rooted less in true friendliness, concern, love-they-neighbor, caring, compassion, empathy, and other "Jesus-like" qualities and values, and MUCH more in the power of exploitation for monetary gain.

2 comments:

Fannie said...

And the sickening thing is that those who are often most harmed by predatory lending probably vote for candidates who are in favor of predatory lending. Blue collar "republicans" and Christians routinely vote against their own economic interests.

Jane Know said...

Exactly. They don't even realize that they are also being exploited (along with whatever "immoral" group-du-jour The Church or evangelical chooses) when they vote for and/or support the socially conservative candidates and evangelicals.

That's why groups like AFA and Ken Hutcherson are SO over-the-top with their declarations. They have to be. They use propaganda tactics to play on people's fear of the "homosexual agenda" or "facsism" or anything that restricts a "true Christian's" rights. Or they tell them they are "True Americans/Christians" and everyone else is going to hell.

I don't know if people really believe all that b.s. they spew, or if it's a natural human emotion to want to be "better than..." And these Churches definitely imply that its members are "better than..." the rest of America.