On a recent trip, I learned that the high temperature at my second stop would be 52 degrees. So I did what any Floridian caught without an overcoat would do in this day and age: effortlessly found an inexpensive jacket on Amazon, guaranteed for overnight delivery. On Sunday.
This act’s extraordinary ease belied equally extraordinary discomfort probably associated with it. Overnight delivery requires underpaid warehouse and transportation workers to toil on Sunday, possibly under outrageous production and delivery pressure. The crazy low price and origin in Shenzhen, China, site of recent labor protests, implied manufacture in an abhorrent sweatshop.
The Chinese plant’s existence undoubtedly shut down an American textile facility, where employees may have been among thousands giving up not only on seeking work but on life itself amid our opioid epidemic. Not to mention smaller retail businesses shuttered, first by big boxes and then Amazon.
Contrast that with the America of my youth. Only absolute necessities were available on Sunday. So one would have found time to get out on Monday (ahead of a Tuesday departure), and headed to a local department store (not part of an over-leveraged national chain). An attentive salesperson would have helped select a suitable (made in America) garment, at possibly double the cost. Paid for with cash or a check from a community bank.
So what prompted this reflection? The recent proposal by progressive rock star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to cap some interest rates at 15 percent. What’s the connection? Another characteristic of the calmer, kinder, common-sense culture of our past: usury laws.
Our collective conscience — and we had one then — would have been shocked by the concept of charging everyday people 25 percent interest on any loan. A payday loan at nearly 700 percent? We would have called it by its name: loan-sharking.
By the way, we also had anti-scalping laws. Sure, you’d find tickets hawked outside ballgames for moderate premiums. But $3,500 for a single upper-deck World Series ticket or $10,000-plus for a college basketball game — putting games out of reach of average fans? Unthinkable. A friend recently related that he had paid $12 for a box seat at the 1978 Fall Classic. In other words, a steelworker could sit next to a “fat cat” at the big game.
Usury, anti-scalping and blue laws may seem quaint to some. But laws ensuring access to sports tickets — and financing — on reasonable terms for everyone were part of the glue that kept Americans from being so completely separated into haves and have-nots, and maintained the now-lost sense of unity and community that bound us as a culture.
What will happen if interest rates are capped? Some conservatives say we might lose credit card reward programs (another rich-poor differentiator). Horrors!
And (talking point alert) “some consumers will be hurt” by losing access to credit. Well, “credit” extended at 25 percent or 700 percent interest isn’t credit anyway. It’s shameful profiteering and a symbol of the depersonalization of our culture. Nameless, faceless customers of national businesses are easier to treat inequitably and heartlessly.
In the old days, many low-income people did get “credit” on installment or layaway plans where you saved up to buy expensive items. Community merchants often let customers pay for needed items as they could — my wife relates how shoe purchases for her and her siblings were sometimes financed exactly that way. (Her late parents never owned a single credit card.) Bankers who knew their customers could make loans based on good character, not algorithms.
Meanwhile, high-interest credit cards for low-income earners in particular are basically a scam and entrapment into a live-beyond-your-means lifestyle, reflecting the rising expectations of a consumer entitlement culture that create opportunities for exploitation.
As I indicated, I really didn’t need to order a cut-price coat on a Sunday for overnight delivery. Plus we once truly did get by on less. Visiting my daughter, I see a living room littered with my grandson’s toy vehicles. I owned one Tonka truck.
And last night, for the heck of it, I compared the square footage of the house my four siblings and I grew up in — considered a large dwelling then — to the McMansion where we raised our six kids (since sold in favor of a smaller dwelling and now an even smaller condo). To my shock: 1,536 versus 4,846. Because every kid, ya know, needs his or her own bedroom now.
Can we turn back the clock to 1960s culture? I doubt it. Will I stop shopping at Amazon (and on Sundays), using credit cards and spoiling my grandkids? Unlikely.
But should we restore at least some of the markers of basic decency that made us a more civil society? You betcha. The conservative position is not reflexive free marketeering. It’s that we can, in fact, legislate morality.
On that score, I give AOC and Uncle Bernie an unaccustomed two thumbs up.
Bob Maistros is president of RPM Executive Communications, Inc., which provides high-level message development, communications strategy and crisis support to firms ranging from the Fortune 500 to tech startups, and he is of counsel at the Alexandria, Va.-based Strategic Action Public Affairs. He was chief writer for the 1984 Reagan re-election campaign and also wrote for Sens. Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.