Much as the Mickey Finn in the banking enormity that has taken down economy after economy was the small print in the contracts so also is the small print in the credit card disaster the Mickey Finn of routine consumer borrowing. An Associated Press dispatch in Wednesday's Boston Globe reports that Democrats are taking aim at high penalty rates, especially when the customer is in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings.
Of course, the Republicans are crying "foul" and prophesying the end of capitalism as we know it. Well, capitalism as we know it does not have a great future. And one of our goals should be to put some limits on interest rates. Some victims of 18% rates are now paying--or, as it happens, not paying--30 %. In a non-inflationary economy, these numbers are certainly usurious. But they are hidden in the verbiage of "terms and conditions," made more obscure by the size of the print, the density of the prose and the will to make what will be dear appear to be cheap.
This is fakery, and it is the routine way of doing business in non-bank financial institutions, which both treasury secretary Tim Geithner and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke want to put under federal regulations, fair, truthful and responsible. Democrats should not shy away from the foul accusations of desiring socialism. They should respond that the future needs to guarantee principles and practices of democratic capitalism. If these are not enshrined both democracy and capitalism will be in peril.