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Web Letter

Some years back my husband and I co-signed a loan for a 20-something nephew knowing he was a bad risk. When he failed to make payments we had to come up with the cash. The story has a half-way happy ending, as he did pay the balance of the loan eventually.

Was it our nephew’s responsibility to pay his debts? Yes. Was it fair that we had to take a financial hit? No. But in choosing to make a risky loan, we were acknowledging the fact that it might happen and accepting some responsibility if it did.

We were helping out a family member and had no expectation of profit. Unless their customers actually lied about their financial viability--and I haven’t seen any evidence that a consequential number did--the banks and loan companies chose to take the same risk out of sheer blind greed. I don’t feel sorry for them in the least.

Peggy Zahrte

Warrens , WI

Jul 31 2008 - 9:17pm

Web Letter

Ms. Ehrenreich seems to pine for the glory days when tenants could murder their landlords and get away with it. Now that was political action--if only we could have kept that heady revolutionary spirit! I would offer the following explanation for our unfortunate loss of such impetus: Depression-era tenants were being evicted from their basic rental units, meaning their families were destined for homelessness. Modern homeowners face the threat of moving back into basic rental units, losing the standard of living they have become accustomed to. While I understand such disruptions of the latter sort can be very damaging, they are not the sort of thing to drive a man to desperate violence. Also, we are not in a Great Depression.

Ms. Ehrenreich also seems to believe that this crisis has been caused entirely by the devious schemes of Wall Street "high rollers," and that those who took out risky mortgages are entirely blameless. The problem with this theory is that people do not get rich by loaning out money that is never paid back. Perhaps Ms. Ehrenreich hasn't checked the financial news lately, but these rich folk have, in fact, also lost a great deal as a result of the crisis. I see no logical reason to believe that the destructive self-delusions of mortgage lenders and investors are any more evil or responsible for the mess than those of mortgage borrowers. It takes two to tango, and the fact that one party might suffer more hardship than the other on no way makes them less culpable.

Zach Schwanbeck

St. Louis, MO

Jul 30 2008 - 1:02am

Web Letter

I read Barbara Ehrenreich's article with keen personal interest. While I long for a radical change in this nation that would somehow eliminate (or at least reduce) our money-grubbing, credit-rated, money-as-self-worth mentality, I see nothing today that makes me optimistic.

My situation is similar to that of millions of other Americans. I'm strapped with debt. The fault, I suppose, is my own. And yet... My shaky financial situation was radically worsened by easy access to high-interest credit, fueled by "no interest for six months" offers. I fell victim to the very thing I scorn: materialism. Succumbing to what I loathe, I desired what more well-off people have "because," as a local furniture company's television commercial suggests, "you like nice things."

I understand the suicidal impulse that accompanies huge, overwhelming debt. I am now facing bankruptcy, which I put off out of a sense of shame. I feel shame because my society, even my own family, values my financial success more than it values me as a person. At least, in the grips of anxiety and depression, so it seems.

And because I have chosen to pursue work, as a writer, that is rarely as lucrative as more "pragmatic" professions, I am faced with the need to find alternative work that I know will be unfulfilling, simply in order to make ends meet minimally.

So faced with the loss of my dreams to write full-time and a financial burden that beats me down with every step I take, I worry that I, too, could resort to the final, terrible, irrevocable solution that suicide offers. Not today, not tomorrow, perhaps, but the thought indeed flitters across my mind. It's not the right choice, but I understand why others have chosen it. Sometimes it feels like there is no other option. And the up-by-the-boot-straps mentality of our country does not make matters any better.

Paul Thompson

St. Louis, MO

Jul 29 2008 - 3:05pm