Financial literacy is bullshit

Robin’s Book Report #63
A reading list by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein

Hi everyone,

I’m always interested in what you’ve have been reading, so please respond if you’ve ingested anything good recently. It can be anything too, not just political/economic stuff. In fact, it’d be better if it wasn’t!

Some readers worried to me that I automatically included responses in my newsletter, which isn’t true. I’ll always ask before including your response. The joy of doing this newsletter is hearing from readers, so if you are feeling compelled, take the dive.

And if you have a friend who might be interested in the newsletter, please forward it along. I’d appreciate it.

-rob

Reading list

The Quest to Improve America’s Financial Literacy Is Both a Failure and a Sham

Financial literacy promotion may sound perfectly sensible—who wouldn’t want to teach children and adults the secrets of managing money?—but in the face of recent research it looks increasingly like a faith-based initiative.

by Helaine Olen (Pacific Standard)

and

Why ‘financial literacy’ is a bunch of hooey – and why the banks promote it

Companies and colleges say that if we all understand our finances, financial crises won’t happen. This is simply untrue

by Helaine Olen (The Guardian)

Financial literacy has risen to prominence as debt burdens skyrocket. It’s not a coincidence. Everyday life has increasingly required the use of more financial products–529 savings plans, 401(k)s, IRAs, credit cards, exotic mortgages, payday loans–all managed by the individual. A pension, conversely, is a benefit managed by a specialist in an institution. Now the individual is solely responsible for mastering the dark arts of finance. We are expected to be a financial experts. But most people aren’t.

Financial literacy is a subtle form of victim blaming, telling people that if they just knew more they wouldn’t be so in debt. First it’s like telling the victims of a defective, exploding automobiles that if only (if only!) our schools taught automotive science many fewer people would have died. If only more Flint, Michigan residents studied water quality, things wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand.

Second, it’s just not true. Debt is too expensive for the majority of people and too many financial products are exploitatively designed. We never had a chance!
 

The Ultra-Wealthy Who Argue That They Should Be Paying Higher Taxes

In an age of historic disparity, Abigail Disney and the Patriotic Millionaires take on income inequality.

by Sheelah Kolhatkar (The New Yorker)

This article profiles an advocacy group made up of wealthy people who are fighting against inequality, Patriotic Millionaires. Their major contribution, in my estimation, is altering laws. I’m skeptical, of course, but in some ways this should be welcome: first because it is necessary and second because no one has political power like they do. What’s surprising is how long it took for a group like this to emerge, but the article points out that most members are worried that if they don’t do something, there’ll be a violent uprising. Which might be a true, or, if its not true, a useful delusion.

Will they fight for all the right laws? Likely not. But some concern about the distribution of resources by people with political power would be good. As long as the solutions are not widening access to financial products.

It would be even more optimistic to see them in coalition with wise labor unions and other worker-powered advocacy groups.

Revolution on the Installment Plan

The moral hazards of the money diary

by Jessa Crispin (The Baffler)

After a bevy of articles chronicling the spending habits of young people, it’s clear the problem with a money diary is that it always looks bad. In the abstract, every purchase looks frivolous and every advantage is tasteless. But the class war waged through the lurid articles is a waste of time, because records individual spending habits are crude memoirs, not indicative of much beyond a highly specific moment in time.

How Taylor Swift Dragged Private Equity Into Her Fight Over Music Rights

The Carlyle Group, an investor in her catalog, has stepped in to encourage talks between Ms. Swift and Scooter Braun, who now controls her old label.

By Kate Kelly, Joe Coscarelli and Ben Sisario (The New York Times)

Private equity looks at music and sees real estate; instead of land and houses you have songs and artists. The article spotlights the fact that most artists do not own their songs, and everyone below the level of Taylor Swift is denied economic agency. Of course, the music business has been exploitative for at least a century. Until musicians own their music, it will just become another commodity for PE firms to securitize, trade, and profit from.

Make Antitrust Democratic Again!

The response to the next recession should put economic power back in the hands of the people.

By Sanjukta Paul and Sandeep Vaheesan (The Nation)

This reinforces the point I made in my article about antitrust, but good to hear it from experts: “Demanding that antitrust law promote only competition is not a tenable solution. Competition is not categorically good.”

What is the real promise of a democratic antitrust movement? Cooperation between independent contractors and other economically marginalized groups.

Think of the possibilities for cooperation among consumers and smaller players if they were freed from the threat of antitrust. Gig workers, freelancers, and small producers who often experience precarity and poverty could bargain collectively for better contracts, much as if they belonged to a union.

U.S. Farmers Are Being Bled by the Tractor Monopoly

Forcing them to use authorized repair centers hurts rural America.

By Adam Minter (Bloomberg)

Farming has emerged as ground-zero for the Right to Repair movement. Dealers and manufacturers exploit the computerization of farm machinery, installing software that can’t be fixed without authorized technicians. Where farmers once might have tinkered with their own machines, they now have to wait for someone to show up, and hope they have the part. They are the victims of repair monopolies.

In Nebraska, an independent mechanic can replace a John Deere Co. tractor transmission. But if the farmer wants to drive it out of the mechanic’s garage, a Deere technician must be hired for $230, plus $130 per hour, to show up to plug a computer into the tractor to authorize the part

Can the Art World Kick Its Addiction to Flying?

By Kyle Chayka (Frieze)

Flying is pervasive in any sales-intensive industry, the difference with the art world is that flying is glorified even by theorists. The author argues against the veneration of peripatesis. My twitter thread on the issue.

Why We Need a Working-Class Media

What could the political effects be of a media that actually served working-class Americans?

by Carla Murphy (Dissent)

A veteran journalist reflects on what it would take to change the narrative in our culture, something I think about a lot. How do we swivel our focus from wealth, to the stories of people leading and making the changes we want to see?

“We need a view of society and ourselves from the underside of power.”

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