Sunday, December 28, 2014

We Want People To Be Free To Make Choices--Except When They Make Choices We Don't Want Them To Make

Just another one of many things to hate in a free society
I hate these places too, but, ya know . . . it's a free country
(photo from Associated Press)
   No surprise.  When that perennial scold Steve Hickey, the Republican who represents the Sioux Falls area in South Dakota's legislature, blew his top  over a plan to build a mega-pawn shop complex in his district it came as "dog bites man" kind of news to me.  Hickey is the pastor of a church in Sioux Falls.  He makes his moral approbations known whenever he's offended by behavior that he deems unworthy of his moral consent.  Last May he promised me that he would never read this blog again during a tirade in my comments section in which he told me that I "have no business quoting the Bible."  That rhetorical clash occurred after Hickey made public an unpublished letter to an editor questioning whether South Dakota doctors felt "silenced or intimidated" on the issue of homosexuality.
     Now Hickey's moral outrage du jour  is being directed at South Dakota's payday loan industry. Just as it comes as no surprise that Hickey is apoplectic about the business, there is one whale of a surprise when it comes to his supporters of this assault.  Well known Democratic strategist Steve Hildebrand has teamed up with Hickey to push for a ballot initiative that would cap interest rates charged by payday lenders at 36 percent, which essentially would put them out of business.  That Hildebrand has a great deal of support from South Dakota's politically liberal community comes across starkly in my good friend Cory Heidelberger's widely followed blog Madville Times.
     And this, to me, is the big surprise.  Everybody knows I'm a Republican of the libertarian stripe, so when my fellow Pubs get worked up about matters like reproductive choice or private sexual behavior I'm usually the odd man out in my party.  In general, I have plenty of allies in the Democratic community, with whom I share a fierce allegiance to the principle of free choice when it comes to personal or mutually consensual behavior.  Now suddenly it seems the notion of free choice has been abandoned by many of my compadres on the left.
     Payday lenders have probably been a feature of American life since our country's inception, though before they became an institution in their own right they were known as loan sharks.  Like it or not, there's a segment of our communities that form a market for this kind of lending, which indeed charges interest rates well into triple digits. There's nothing pretty about this business.  But like abortion, a very un-pretty process indeed, attempts to drive it out of the realm of legally condoned behavior won't eliminate the demand for it. There's a pragmatic as well as a philosophical side to this argument, both of which favor the status quo among those of us who champion free choice.
     But there's another dimension to this issue, thanks to some irony attached to the pawn shop/amusement venture that set Hickey off. 
Hickey's Nightmare Chuck Brennan
A man with a plan for a SD pawn shop/amusement center
(photo from Sioux Falls Argus Leader)
Turns out that its location will be virtually adjacent to the entertainment complex developed with support from the South Dakota-based Premier Bancard credit card behemoth, which deals in a credit card that last year earned the "Lifetime Shame Award" from CBS Moneywatch for its lending and interest rate practices.  Why Hickey and his supporters aren't apoplectic about that is their business. To my way of thinking, though, there's some selective outrage going on here and the storefront payday lenders are being singled out for attack.  
     Nobody's a fan of ostensibly usurious lending practices, whether they're dressed up in the veil corporate respectability or tucked away in a strip mall. But there's a certain messiness about democracy that makes it necessary to accept individuals and institutions that often have an unsavory character about them. As they say, it's a free country. People scrambling for cash should have the freedom to make their choices about how to get it legally. I challenge those who oppose payday lending to come up with an alternative that conforms to their moral sensibilities.  

Addendum (added 12/29 @6:13 a.m.):  My commenter posting as Anonymous but signing a "JGH" below included this 2008 piece from the Argus Leader about Brennan and his Dollar Loan Center enterprise in Sioux Falls.  


  1. Should we protect people from themselves? Are most things black and white, or are most things gray? Is suicide legal in our state? What about assisted suicide? What about real estate contacts where title isn't transferred until the last payment is made? They aren't building equity but the poor aging widow can't make her last payment. That specific example "shocks the conscious of the court." Does 500% interest shock us? Almost everything has limits. Free speech. You can't yell fire in crowded place when there is no fire. At the core reason and fairness is supposed to be the basis for our our laws. The Sioux Falls we know was built on lax usually laws thanks to Bill Janklow. This is a slimy business which society needs to establish limits in the face of donations both men make in order to become respectable. While I rarely agree with Hickey I would argue one must restrain their libertarian ideals as we must with everything in the name of good judgement. KELO's article is 08 is worth reading. My mother hated the C word more than a swear word which I confess to agree. It's beside the point but he is not a role model regardless of his wealth. JGH

    1. Thanks for commenting, JGH. I posted the url of the Argus story in the main body of my piece and think it's a worthwhile read.

  2. John,

    Although I despise these blood suckers of society I've basically stated this before on Madville that I just don't see this as doing much in the grand scheme of things. It is almost like a hollow victory since there are many avenues where people can borrow money quick and be at risk of getting them into trouble on that non ending practically no hope financial hamster wheel.

    South Dakota's low wages, 51st state in education funding along with other variables help contribute to this growth in the "poverty industry".

    Frankly many people are living beyond their means in our materialistic society of having that Bass Boat, driving SUV's or crew cab 4wd pickup's when they will use that 4wd maybe once or twice a year here on the flatlands when a front wheel drive car with winter tires or RWD pickup would work great and ownership would be far less expensive. Then they need to have all of this now vs saving up along with an emergency fund and retirement.

    I'd rather see all of this energy put towards promoting what non-profits like Lutheran & Catholic Family Services do in helping educate regarding budgeting and financial matters and other forms of outreach in educating consumers but I realize with all the education it comes down to human nature at times.



  3. John,

    Just to add to the previous post. There are numerous opportunities regarding helping educate consumers to help lessen the risk they will ever need the services of a payday loan center but one of the challenges is to actually get these people to go to a place where they can get the info or to a seminar. I used to be in the Automobile business and one thing I enjoyed when I had the time was to teach people how to purchase vehicles, timing, how to do the research to find the real market value, where to look for mechanical issues sometimes known for that brand of vehicle or maybe hidden and if it was a flood vehicle and all kinds of information to help reduce the risk and empower them in the 2nd largest financial purchase they would make after a house. I didn't charge money for this. I was glad to help and didn't feel threatened in regards to my income. It actually made the process much smoother for the consumer and myself.

    I even had the unfortunate experience or repossessing a vehicle in which I volunteered to do since I sold it. This nice couple was well aware of their limited options for financing and we just tried to get a reliable vehicle so they could focus on other financial obligations and rebuild credit. Their interest rate was higher to obviously cover the added risk. Not long afterwards we stopped getting payments and were unable to contact them or get a return communication after trying numerous times. I spent the day driving to another state, let local law enforcement know and brought the car back. This couple came back and worked everything out thankfully with no hard feelings at all but these things happen!


    1. We'll probably always have a class of folks who are the market for these types of lenders, but as you note, we're probably better off devoting our community resources to educating people and creating a society that keeps the number of those who make these choices down to the barest possible minimum.

  4. Even the garden of Eden / Paradise contained a temptation, the tree of forbidden fruit. I suppose it was because we are not really free if we don't have a choice, are we ? Jesus said in Mathew and Luke, that temptations would come, but woe unto him, whom through they come,, then the reference to a mill stone being hung around their neck and cast into the ocean. I appreciate freedom. I also do not believe it is the governments job to remove all temptations from our lives and sterilize the ground we walk on. At the same time, it is very wrong for government to license, regulate, and profit from the "temptations" as well. I refer to alcohol, gambling and tobacco for example. I am fairly certain the expansion of payday loan/check cashing business came on the heels of the legalized gambling, did it not ? This issue does not have to be about imposing ones morals on another. This could be based upon good social science, couldn't it ? We know, or at least we think we know, what a healthy and growing society is and needs to stay healthy. We also should know about the things that are hurtful and unhealthy to society. Maybe our laws and policies could parallel what we know to be true. Maybe we could love our neighbors as ourselves. Maybe we could do unto others as we would have done unto ourselves.

    1. Using the Holy Bible as our standard, I'd say the basis of its message is that we've been granted free will and its up to us to make the choices that will save or condemn us. Lot's wife had a choice. She chose wrong. Taking away choices is not the basis of a moral or a free society.

  5. John,

    We can do the best we can to help educate regarding the consequences of their choices and provide better options but I realize I can't tell people how to live their lives. We can create laws to some degree to protect society but again they are on their own path of learning thru the school of hard knocks or dealing with personal demons such as chemical or gambling addiction.


  6. There are other pawn shops in Sioux Falls, and have been for years.

    As far as I know, there have not been any, or only a very few complaints about them.

    This is not so much about the pawn business as it is about the person wanting to open a super-pawn shop.