booming credit card business is one of the most profitable and
destructive industries to ever emerge from the inventive capitalist
mind. Citibank is raking in more money than Microsoft and Wal-Mart.
Obscene profits are realized without lifting a finger to perform any
physical work. In 2004, a single credit card company, the MBNA,
realized 1.5 times the profits of fast food industry giant McDonald's.
Collecting on credit card debt is a very lucrative business.
With origins in South Dakota, the modern
credit card industry began realizing obscene profits as a result of
deregulation. The Supreme Court also played a pivotal role in
expanding banking industry profits by lifting limits to the amount of
additional fees credit card companies could charge their customers.
The sky is the limit now. Industry deregulation has resulted in the
systemic fleecing of consumers by practices that can only be described
as willful and predatory in nature.
It is variously estimated that debit cards will account for 26% of
retail sales volumes between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays
this year, up 3% from 2005. The busiest shopping period of the year
does not occur on Black Friday, as is widely reported, but between the
11th and 17th of December. During this span Americans will likely
spend $34 billion on credit and debit card purchases; and nearly $86
billion between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Billions more will be
spent on store issued credit cards. In total, Americans will accrue
$135 billion in additional credit card debt this holiday season.
To date, credit card volume is running 11% percent higher than last
year. The National Retail Federation estimates that over $454 billion
will be spent by American consumers during the holiday season this
year, including cash purchases. That represents a 5% increase over the
previous year, while VISA USA estimates overall retail sales for the
2006 holiday season to increase by 7.5%.These are truly staggering
numbers that are not easily grasped.
By paying only the monthly minimum payments, as so many struggling
families do, it may require more than thirty years to pay off a dress
or a power tool that was purchased at the local mall on Black Friday.
That makes for a pretty expensive gift and every year additional debt
is accumulating upon the old, making extrication very difficult, if
not impossible. But that is the whole idea behind predatory
capitalism. Industry insiders refer to the small percentage of card
holders who do not carry a monthly balance as "dead beats." Consumer
traps are engineered into the system that all but guarantees that card
uses will be late making their payments or exceed their credit
When card users are late making payments, as the complex algorithms
used by card issuers predict they will, interest rates rise
dramatically and multiple user fees are added to the monthly bill.
Millions of card users spend most of their income paying exorbitant
user fees, without reducing the balance or reducing it only minimally.
The bankers are raking in billions, while working class families are
becoming debt slaves to the predatory capitalists of the credit card
industry. This was made possible with the blessings of Congress
operating under the influence of the corporate lobbyists that swarm on
Capitol Hill like maggots on a corpse.
Bankruptcy laws that once provided working people a way out of debt
are no longer available to them as an avenue of escape. It should be
noted, however, that bankruptcy courts remain open to corporations and
provide them with debt relief, a chance to start over with a clean
Thus the banker thieves will continue to rob working families until
death do them part; and then the debt burden is passed on to the next
of kin. More than a cash cow designed to bilk the people of their hard
earned income, credit card debt is also a way to control the debtors
and keep them in line; and it is a major battle front in the class war
that rages across the continent.
Like genetically modified poultry with abnormally large breasts, the
American consumer is bred to consume and to be consumed by predatory
capitalists. They are taken in by seductive advertising campaigns that
nourish the urge to consume, no matter how destructive to the self or
to the planet.
Credit card agreements are so complex and deliberately misleading that
few consumers, or even lawyers can fully comprehend them; and they are
mined with hidden traps and pitfalls guaranteed to produce lifetimes
From the previously cited statistics it should be clear that the
people stand naked and vulnerable before the predatory capitalists and
their cohorts in government. Massive personal debt is yet another
example of a profit driven system that does not work for the working
people of this nation. The trust that should prosper between people
and government no longer exists, leaving the majority of citizens
without representation. Predatory capitalism creates enormous wealth
for a privileged few by exploiting workers who are trying to survive
by working multiple jobs that yield non-living wages, and few or no
Virtually all of the financial institutions in this country, including
the Federal Reserve, are arrayed against working families. Congress is
working for big business rather than working families, as evidenced by
their policy decisions and voting records. Let us be clear about whose
side they are on.
Ever more creative methods of fleecing the people are being crafted in
the corporate board rooms of America and dutifully written into law by
Congress. Millions of working people thus find themselves buried under
an avalanche of debt from which they will never escape. Debtors are a
cash cow for the credit card and banking industries whose supply of
milk is without end. Eventually we will be required to work until we
die, as our creditors and Congress work in concert to bleed us to
death and gorge themselves on our labor and our suffering.
The low esteem by which workers are held in America by the ruling
Plutocracy underscores the reality that there is no one looking out
for our interests. But we must remember that we comprise about 95% of
the population. Our low placement on the economic rungs of the ladder
assures that we will remain bottom feeders, either surviving or
perishing on the crumbs that fall from the tables of the rich, thereby
guaranteeing our continued serfdom to them. It also demonstrates the
necessity of organizing as a class and rising together against the
corporate predators that are bleeding us of life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness.
Charles Sullivan is a
photographer, freelance writer and social activist living in West
Virginia. He welcomes your comments at:
* BCS Alliance
* PBS Frontline, November 28, 2006