December 14, 2006
The 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 companyŚthe MBNAŚrealized
1.5 times the profits of fast food industry giant McDonaldĺs. 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.ĺ Consumer traps are
engineered into the system that all but guarantees that card uses will
be late making their payments or exceed their credit limits.
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
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 slate.
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
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 of
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 benefits.
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.
PBS Frontline, November 28, 2006
Charles Sullivan is a photographer, free-lance writer and social
activist living in West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at