For a 40-minute freebie financial documentary, Spent: Looking for Change sure got a lot of publicity. And really, I’m not sure why. Was it directed or bankrolled by someone I should know? (I’m not a film aficionado, in case you hadn’t noticed.)
I’ve watched Spent twice now, and found it to be a well-done film. Definitely worth viewing if you’re a money-dork like me. If you’re coming to it looking for answers to tough financial issues — yours, or our country’s — you’ll get none.
What’s the Message?
What does Spent: Looking for Change try to convey? Well, mostly, that there’s a huge segment of our country’s population which is “underserved” by Greedy Nasty Corporate Taxpayer-Backed Profit Machines, also known as banks.
I’m sure lots of readers have taken me for a banking apologist over the years — check out my blast on overdraft whiners, for example. But the fact is that I have little sympathy either for banks OR for the people they regularly fleece. Am I a cold, heartless bastard? Yes, quite possibly. But one thing I know is this:
The financial system in the U.S. isn’t set up to allow for people who either (1) make repeated poor decisions, or (2) hit a Big Misfortune in life (think major illness of a family’s breadwinner) to easily recover from those situations. If nothing else, Spent: Looking for Change makes that fact crystal-clear.
But there’s another message I picked up from Spent, and I’m wondering if it’s what was intended. That message was:
Everyone needs, and should be provided, the ability to borrow at low cost.
Oh, how I vehemently disagree with this message. Every “victim” in the film eventually turned to debt as a “solution,” for whatever reason, and every one of them found that the debt they “needed” was either unavailable or came at a high cost.
Okay. So where’s the problem?
If you want to borrow money, and the bank pegs you as “high risk,” then high risk equals high cost. Period. That is basic economics. That is life. The earlier we learn that, the better. And if you as the director/producer/funding agent of this film believe that the “high risk equals high cost” precept is wrong or unfair, then I invite you to throw copious amounts of your own hard-earned money into the pile from which high-risk and/or low-income customers can borrow at rock-bottom interest rates.
Let me know how it turns out, if you don’t mind.
So I’m a Meanie.
Would I prefer that the single mom from Texas, who lost her only means of transportation to a title-loan company, have found another way to come up with the funds she needed? Definitely I would. Would I have been willing to loan her that money myself, at low rates? No. Should someone else be forced to do so? No.
Would I prefer that the young female entrepreneur in the film, who apparently cannot make leather bags fast enough to keep her customers’ orders filled, be able to manageably kick her business into the next gear? Yes, I would … in my heart. But in my head, I wouldn’t loan her the money to do it, nor would I ask anyone else to do so, because the $100k of student-loan debt she took out will always be first at the table when push comes to shove. (Those student loans appear to have been be a TERRIBLE HORRIBLE LIFE-CRUSHING decision here, by the way. But the film says little about this. Nor does it mention the fact that the “huge student-loan problem” we have is because WE HAVE SPENT DECADES HANDING OUT EASY-TO-GET LOANS IN THIS VERY ARENA.)
Like so many things in life, there aren’t any easy answers here. But I am quite positive that “Let’s make debt more available!” isn’t any kind of an answer, easy or not.