Thursday, March 30, 2006

Review of Nader At RIT

OK, so I'm pretty inspired. I went to see Ralph Nader speak at RIT, and I was so overcome with the desire to change the world that I actually decided/was forced by Dave to blog about it.

I'll admit, I might not have been the most detail-oriented listener in the business-school audience, because I really do see the guy as a bit of a rock star, but what I got out of the talk: we all have a serious responsibility to do what we can to reform society; what we can do is actually pretty substantial, when we get our privileged-American act together and use our resources/educations/freedoms for good instead of consumerism; we should probably keep our money in our mattresses instead of banks. I'm joking on the last bit, but Nader is pretty serious about banking deregulation (the ostensible topic of the speech) as the root of many monetary evils.

He talked about red-lining in poor neighborhoods, and the exorbitant fees charged for financial transactions in an oligopolistic banking market. Basically, we're facing restricted access to financial services for the poor, and high prices for everyone, because of the mergers of many banks into a few giant banks after banking deregulation (and, he argued, the inadequate application of anti-trust laws). I smugly patted myself on the back for being a member of a local credit union, but then Nader launched into a description of how a clause inserted into a recent federal law makes it easier for credit unions to convert to for-profit, taxable operations, and how many are choosing to do just that.

I should have thought to ask (but didn't consider it until later) how he felt about the proposed "Wal-mart bank"... although many of us have a knee-jerk reaction to Walmart, I've heard it suggested that the plan might give low-income people underserved by many other banks access to checking accounts (and thus free check-cashing) and other benefits. However, Nader also warned about the overuse of credit, and it could be that people would find themselves in even more debt as they took out loans to pay for purchases in-store.

Anyway, whatever you think of his actions in 2004, the man's a national treasure. Everyone should see him once.

[poster's note: the word "forced" could be interchanged in this situation with "requested", "suggested" or "asked"]

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