“I have a dream that Americans will increase their financial capacity by changing their relationship with money”

I am reposting this from an article I read in National Review Online. It was part of a “symposium” they did on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. National Review does these symposiums regularly about different topics. The gist of it is a lot of thought leaders and politicians from around the country weigh in with a paragraph or two on a given topic.

This particular one really hit home for me and I wrote an email to Dr. Soaries for permission to post it here. He graciously replied:

Thank you for your comments and your kind request. Of course you may repost my comments. Keep doing what you do. A fellow once told me that “a drop of ink can make a million think.” Now that ink has gone digital that may be more true than ever. God bless. 

DeForest B. Soaries, Jr.

I want to give a big thanks to him and hope you all find it as accurate and thoughtful as I did. In these comments lies at least part of the answer to what I think is a broken political and economic system.

National Review Online asked a panel of distinguished commenters to assess where Dr. King’s dream stands, 50 years after his historic speech.

Former Secretary of State of New Jersey and senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, NJ

DEFOREST B. SOARIES JR.

Fifty years after the famous 1963 March on Washington, I have a dream that Americans will increase their financial capacity by changing their relationship with money.

It is true that some of the racist attitudes of the past still linger despite the significant progress that has been made. But those attitudes no longer represent the primary barrier that prevents low-income and African-American people from advancing. Like the rest of our culture, the groups at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are being consumed by consumption and find themselves drowning in consumer debt, living above their economic means, and patronizing nontraditional financial services including check-cashing stores, gold-for-cash shops, auto-title loan schemes, and payday loans. Our national passion to consume and our cultural reluctance to budget and save represent real threats to our ever achieving the kind of economic progress that Dr. King envisioned. In his last speech, on April 3, 1968, he urged his listeners to open bank accounts in the African-American bank in Memphis. Today, 21 percent of African Americans have no bank account, and 33 percent have a bank account but still use expensive nontraditional financial services. When 54 percent of African Americans are what the FDIC calls “unbanked” and “underbanked,” there is a crisis that defies traditional solutions offered by civil-rights perspectives.

Our global economic crisis of the past five years was made possible by the gasoline of corporate greed being thrown on the fire of inappropriate desire and willingness to borrow money by too many people. We have more credit cards than we have people in this country and the average American family has more credit-card debt than savings. And this epidemic of “buy now, pay later” that has seized our culture has made millions of low-income people vulnerable to the most pernicious predatory schemes we have ever seen.

The payday-loan industry, for instance, provides short-term, high-cost loans to approximately 33,000 people every day. In the State of Ohio, these loans have published interest rates of 700 to 800 percent. Although payday-loan stores are a recent development, since 1990 more payday-loan stores are now in existence than McDonalds and Starbucks combined. It has been documented that such borrowing becomes a debt trap for millions of people who have difficulty ever repaying their original loan, and they contribute to a financial plunge into economic disaster for millions of borrowers. These products are marketed primarily to low-wage earners— exactly the kind of workers that Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis to support when he was killed.

My dream is to educate people about the dangers of payday-loan products, advocate for government regulation of such products, and work toward creating low-cost alternatives for people who need access to credit and are not being served by commercial banks. As long as America embraces this kind of reverse Robin Hood enterprise in which the rich are able to benefit from the victimization of the poor of all races, Dr. King’s dream will never be realized.

 DeForest B. Soaries Jr. is the author of dfree: Breaking Free from Financial Slavery.

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