THE ATTITUDE OF COMMODIFYING PEOPLE: THE TEXAS EXAMPLE

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By Chinedu Ezeocha for Ezeocha Post
Originally Published on Friday October 3, 2014 at 4:37 PM CT

 It is no secret that in Texas, businesses runs the government. Friendly laws and policy decisions are made to benefit businesses than we the people – the very consumers that businesses rely upon for their survival. This is because of the generally accepted belief that businesses create jobs and by so doing help grow the economy. We the people on the other hand are seen more often as unwelcome inconveniences especially when we demand from government certain social privileges or when we demand that our rights be protected against predator businesses that prey on the vulnerable. In a nutshell, if there is ever a contest match in Texas between businesses and we the people, and the state government is the umpire, businesses will always win no matter how hard we the people try.

In this essay, I am going to argue that the shylockian exploitation of ordinary Americans in Texas by businesses, actions that are encouraged by policies of the state government, has reached an alarming crescendo and need to be discussed and efforts made to reverse the ugly trend. I will make my case using the ‘loan shark’ businesses and the relationships that exists between apartment renters and apartment managements as my references.

In early 2012, I needed to buy my first car in America. I just got my work permit and all the good jobs (when I say good jobs I mean better than minimum wage) I was getting were at places where the METRO bus system do not go to. So in order to secure these good jobs and better take care of my family, I needed to buy a car. I needed extra $1000.00(one thousand dollars) to complete the money I already had to get the most affordable car available to me then. Family and friend could not lend me the money. So I went to Ace Cash Express (a loan shark company) to borrow the money. They agreed to lend me the money but for the $1000.00 that I needed to borrow from them, they wanted me to return it back to them in two weeks time and by the time I will be returning the money, they wanted me to return $1500.00(one thousand, five hundred dollars) to them. $500.00 (five hundred dollar) interest in two weeks for a loan of $1000.00 (one thousand dollars). And that is a 150% interest in just two weeks. Nobody makes that kind of extreme gains in business in such a short time. Else, everybody will be a businessperson and nobody will be working for anyone else. Out of curiosity, I asked them how much I would be required to pay back if I chose to repay the $1000.00 after one month. And they told me that I have to return $3000.00 (three thousand dollars) to them by the end of one month if I choose to rather than two weeks, pay them back in a month’s time. And that, my friends, is a 300% interest rate. Just for a month.

The Texas-big question now is: where else besides Texas does a business make this kind of outrageous gains on an investment in such a short period of time?

Just hold your thought.

America was built on the principles of capitalism where an individual can amass as much capital as he desires as long as he works for it. The men that built America – the Rockefellers, the Morgans, the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies – they all operated this system and left for us a good model to follow.

 

I love the capitalist economic system. If I can work smart enough to attain it, I want to be John D. Rockefeller rich. I believe in America and I believe in capitalism. That is why I came to America afterall. This practice though, of these “loan sharks” as they are popularly called, which is encouraged by the State of Texas, is not capitalism. These folks are modern day shylocks, the contemporary Merchants of Venice. They prey on poor people who are too broke to afford the basic necessities of life. Hence their need to borrow money in order to afford basic needs for their family. They are already poor. To make them poorer by subjecting them to outrageous interest rates (which almost all of the time is impossible for them to pay) because they are seeking a loan is immoral. It has nothing to do with being business-savvy. No, brother. That is being Bernard-Madoff-greedy. And we know where folks like Bernie Madoff end up. It has nothing to do with whatever choices the person seeking the loan made that put him or her in that position of need. We all have needs. It has nothing to do with a person’s choice to be poor. That someone is poor does not imply that he or she should be exploited and abused by the system. It has nothing to do with living within your means because in my case for example – a husband with an unemployed wife and two kids – I HAVE to provide for my family. Period! And a $7.25/hour job will not do the job for me. So in order to be a responsible father, I needed a better paying job. And to be able to secure the better-paying job, I needed a car. I had no car because I haven’t been previously working. I had little money and needed just extra to afford a vehicle, not necessarily a comfort vehicle, to take me to work. I did not expect anybody to give me a loan without interest. But I expected an interest rate that is within reason. Credit card companies lend money too. But they do not charge 400% interest rates as is common practice with these Texas loan sharks. Some people are poor by choice. But there are people who are rendered poor by circumstances beyond their control and who stay poor only for a short period of time. In their pursuit to work themselves out of poverty, some of the time they will have genuine need(s) that they will need someone else to help them meet. Texas government and their loan shark partners should cease from punishing them for having genuine needs. Rather they should seek to help them out of their hole at a reasonable rate anytime they need to borrow money from these loan sharks.

Middle class folks have no need for payday loan and do not borrow from loan sharks. Payday loan is for poor people. Most of these poor people – as I were, when we set out to borrow money from loan sharks, do have genuine intention of paying it back. Most of the time however, after paying back the principal money we borrowed, and discouraged by the high interest rate, we cannot afford to pay back the interest as we have our families to cater for. So we renege on it. And what happens after? The shark lender hands over our information to debt collectors who after sending our way couple of ‘debt reminder letters,’ gets tired and report us to the credit scoring bureau. Our credit score will then be downgraded. Double whammy. We are indebted to a loan shark. And our credit score is downgraded. By virtue of the credit downgrade, we may struggle all our life to get by. And most of the time, the feeble among the lot ends up on the food stamp list of the government and /or in the Projects. And government money is used to cater for them. They were rendered poor as a result of government’s policies and government is now their provider. How ironical!

And then you walk into a leasing office to rent an apartment unit, and the apartment management staff gives you a document of long list of “must do” conditions you have to sign and honor while you are resident at the apartment complex, failure of which will result to some huge financial penalty or eviction for you. They claim to reserve the right to increase your monthly rent without notice or discussion with you. They claim to reserve the right to cancel your lease agreement with them without notice. They tell you how your apartment unit should look; the number of guests you can have; whether you can have a pet or not and if you can, how much extra money you will be paying them monthly for having a pet. Long tall list. Of what the renter MUST do or…………

But incidentally, they have no obligation of their own towards you (the renter). They can cancel the lease agreement you signed with them without notice and evict you from your unit and they will owe you no financial obligations. You on the other hand cannot cancel your contract with them without costs to yourself. They already made you sign a contract accepting to pay them certain substantial amount of money if you should terminate your lease agreement with them before your contract term runs out. So if, for example, due to their track record of consistent late response to sometimes emergency maintenance work needed at your unit and you get fed up staying at the apartment complex, and decide to leave, the contract you signed binds you to pay them some huge amount of money. If you choose not to pay, they will report you to the credit bureau and mess up your credit. But they can cancel the lease agreement you signed with them without notice to you and nothing will happen. They will owe you nothing. They can even bring the police to forcefully evict you. And that will be cool with the police. Why? Because the State of Texas so ordained? So you ask yourself: why are apartment renters treated with such derision?

The apartment complex at which I live, you can go to the leasing office and inform them about the need for a maintenance work at your unit. And the staff will tell you a work order have been sent out to get it done. And then comes the wait time. To be fair, at one instant I waited for a month and nothing happened. I stopped going because every trip I made to the leasing office yielded the same result and I hated myself for not being a little bit, ghetto, in my approach. They respond quickly to cursing laced with profanity. Why can’t they respect the fact that I am talking to them responsibly and reciprocate the responsibility by lighting the fire on the ass of their maintenance team to do their job as and when required?

My neighbor has a two bedroom apartment with two bathrooms. One of her sons while playing in the bathroom in the children’s bedroom stuck a cloth inside the toilet and it blocked the toilet from flushing. And without telling their mom, the children continued using the toilet. As they were trying to flush it, the water overflowed it and rushed into their bedroom and dampened their carpet. It was a mess. My neighbor went to our leasing office and reported the case at which they (the leasing office) acknowledged it was an urgent case and promised to send maintenance team right away to fix it. My neighbor waited for 8 (eight) days before that toilet in her children’s room was fixed. For those eight days she went to the leasing office on a daily basis to complain about the health hazards to her children that will arise from the stench and bacteria from the unflushed putrid in their toilet. And for eight days, without an ounce of regard for her legitimate concern, they kept telling her the same story that their maintenance team is short-staffed and will come to her unit only when they can. Really. And whose fault is it that the maintenance team was short-staffed? If my neighbor should default on her rent as and when it is due because she didn’t make sales for her employer and therefore wasn’t paid well enough money for the month, will that excuse be acceptable to the leasing office and spare her late payment fees? At a point one of the leasing agents asked her why she was bothering so much about one bathroom when she have two bathrooms in her unit. Really? If she had wanted a two bedroom and one bathroom unit, she could have paid for that and that costs way less money than she presently pays. She wanted a two bedroom and two bathrooms unit and the apartment charged her accordingly for that. Hence it is the apartment’s responsibility to ensure that she has two working bathrooms at all times. But they do not give a rat’s ass about their own end of the bargain because the law allowed them to get away with their irresponsibility. Ironically it is the same law that allows them to get away with their irresponsibility that puts heavy financial burden on the renter if he or she defaults on paying his or her rent by the 3rd of every month. Why will the law punish an ordinary citizen who defaults on paying his or her rent as and when due but spares the business who collects the rent but fails to provide the necessary services to the renter as and when due? If businesses can have a leeway as when to respond to maintenance needs at the apartment units irrespective of how urgent these needs are, why can’t ordinary citizens for their own personal reasons have the same leeway on when to pay their rent? Why is business more important than people? In Texas.

It is unfortunate that we have departed considerably in America, but particularly in Texas, from the tenets that defined us as a people. The preamble of our constitution started with ‘We The People’ and our system of government – democracy is defined as government of the ‘people’ by the ‘people’ and ‘for the people.’ The people have always been at the centre of the American life. Not business. Business is not people and people are not mere commodities that we toss around as we wish. The man, no matter how highly or lowly placed is a significant part of the American society and at the very least; the government which is supposed to be ‘for’ him should guarantee his inalienable rights and protect him also from both external and domestic predators. We have long replaced the man in our democracy with business and it is hightime this ugly anomaly is put a stop to in Texas. I call on State Senator Wendy Davis, if she is serious about becoming the next Democratic Governor of the great state of Texas to talk on these two issues that I raised in this essay, among other issues that speaks to the heart of the common man. She have to promise the people a holistic review of the policy that governs the loan shark business and be specific about how tremendous a reduction in interest rates she will propose to the state legislature once she becomes our governor. With a reasonable interest rate, there is no reason why a person of conscience who went to borrow money will not repay his debt and the interest the debt incurred. She should also promise a review of how tenancy agreements are drafted in the state so as to protect both the rights of the people and interests of businesses in like manner.

I am a businessman. But I am first a person. I have nothing against businesses. But I am completely against the practice of substituting business for people and the commodifying of people. Businesses are not people. People are people.

Let the debate continue…….

 

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