A couple of things I read recently that I’ve been meaning to pass along:
1. A few weeks ago the Freakonomics blog on The New York Times website featured a video piece on the culture and economics of check-cashing services, utilized widely by the poor. It’s worth a look, especially if you’re not familiar with check-cashing businesses. On a related note, I’ve also read some interesting discussions about “stored value cards” as an emerging alternative to check-cashing services, which is still very much in an experimental phase when it comes to meeting the financial needs of the unbanked poor, but stored value cards certainly hold exciting possibilities.
2. Today’s New York Times column by David Brooks argues for major public-sector and private-sector policy shifts in our country’s financial values and practices. This sentiment is expressed by policy makers on a regular basis, so I’m not surprised to hear a Times columnist echo the refrain, but the column did bring to my attention a new non-partisan think tank report, “For a New Thrift, Confronting the Debt Culture.” I don’t expect that it contains any truly revolutionary ideas, so I intend to be my thrifty self and not pay the $7.00 for the report (but I’m happy to look at it if they want to give a public service blogger a free copy, hint, hint). What did I think of the Brooks column? Well, this particular national challenge tends to elicit a lot of moralizing (as Brooks demonstrates), which is not generally my style, but I have to agree that there seems to be a crisis of values at work here in addition to the economic and political factors driving Americans further into debt. Perhaps we need more leaders tackling our crisis of indebtedness and overconsumption within a values framework while others tackle it within an economic and political framework. We obviously don’t all share the same values framework, but neither do we all share the same economic and political frameworks, so I don’t feel uncomfortable seeing the discussion take place on that level too. The reality of the problem needs to sink in across all levels of our society if major change is going to occur.