It’s a trap

All of a sudden, I’m seeing a ton of ads for stock trading on my Facebook feed. And as soon as I hide one, another pops up.

I’m looking at these in the light of the Robinhood/Game Stop fiasco this past week. This was a scheme by rich people called shorting, where they manipulate the stock of a company (in this case, retailer Game Stop) they’re betting is about to fail. Last week, middle-income people who saw this happening, went to the online trading company, Robinhood, and bought so much of the stock as a group that the price rose precipitously. The Robinhood traders made millions selling this stock back to the wealthy traders. The rich people lost a ton of money, so trading was stopped to protect the wealthy.

So now, we’re seeing ads for “discounted” stocks all over because rich people are going to prey on the hopes of people who can’t afford to gamble with these schemes.

Headlines are promising unimaginable wealth from new tech stocks, or 50 percent off trading fees for hidden gems in the market. I have hidden the ads of one company (Motley Fool) three times in an hour.

Meanwhile, most of us are drowning in debt, from student loans at 12 percent interest, four of five credit cards, all maxed out at 29 percent interest, and now we have payday loan apps on smart phones.

I get emails from Experian every day — every damn day — telling me I can have this credit card or that one to “rebuild” my credit rating.

I cut up all my credit cards two years ago after struggling for years to get them paid off. One of the most popular ways to get people to keep their debt is to offer another card at lower interest rates, say, 12 percent, for the first year. They’ll transfer your balance.

Except they won’t.

They’ll leave $1,000 or so on the original card, so now you have another payment to make, and in times like these, the minimum payment is all people can afford to make. And, since you now have a credit card that isn’t maxed out, when the car breaks down, you put the $1,500 bill on the now-almost-cleared card, at — you guessed it — 26 percent interest.

I struggled with this for years before I finally figured out I’d already paid more than double what I had borrowed. I cut up all the cards and signed on with a debt-reduction service. Instead of struggling to pay nearly $1,000 in credit card bills each month, I pay about one-third of that. The downside is that I have a crappy credit rating. I mean, really crappy.

That means I have to pay a higher interest rate if I borrow money. But with $600 a month freed up, I can pay cash for what I need. I don’t need credit for everyday expenses anymore. The debt-reduction service is negotiating settlements with all four credit card companies, and I’m able to save a little money for when I have a big expense.

For the first year, these credit card companies filled my inbox with threats of court action, but the service I contracted with told me not to even acknowledge those threats, and after a year, they stopped.

Wall Street and Big Credit don’t want you to know these things, and I think the rich are rather amused at our efforts to catch up and live debt-free.

They punish us with a bad credit rating if we don’t play their game, and your credit rating is everything. It’s even used to determine whether a company will hire you, whether you can rent an apartment and have a roof over your head.

If you can get an apartment by paying three months’ rent up front, you’ll also have to pay a hefty deposit — perhaps the equivalent of three months’ service — for utilities.

If you can get a loan, it will be much more expensive because you’re going to pay a much, much higher interest rate.

These are the ways our current system extracts the last drop of blood from the poor. It’s how they drive middle class families into poverty, where they, too can be exploited.

Historically, it reminds me of the way my grandparents had to live in company housing and buy from the company store as employees of textile mills in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You never had quite enough to cover everything, so you just went deeper and deeper into debt, so the company pretty much owned you.

Today, it’s not the company, but the banks who own us. They control the narrative because they control the money.

We the People are not being represented in Congress anymore, they are. That’s why minimum wage hasn’t budged in more than a decade, even though the cost of living is three times what minimum wage is now. That’s why interest rates that once were illegal are now considered low. It’s why car title companies and payday lenders are thriving.

We’re not supposed to be able to dig out.

We’re entering serfdom from the first time we borrow money, and now credit card apps are available for children to teach them how to “manage debt,” so we’re not even able to reach adulthood anymore before being ensnared.

And nearly half of us are voting for people who stand against helping any of us dig out.

I can’t say what the solution might be except to push the new Democratic majority to change some laws:

  • Raise the minimum wage to $15 immediately and plan increases over the next five years to get it to where it would be had it kept up with inflation, and then tie it to inflation.
  • Re-establish usury laws to keep interest rates in check. Put caps on what banks can charge for various loans. Close payday lenders.
  • Establish a massive public works program to shore up our crumbling infrastructure and electrical grid.
  • Break up the banks and tech monopolies.
  • Provide real, ongoing relief to people whose jobs went away because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, forgive their rent and pay the landlord. Pay their utilities and make sure unemployment compensation pays for the bills they still have. Make sure they have health insurance (this is especially urgent in the 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid).
  • Treat us like human beings. All of us.

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