David Ray Papke has recently published “Perpetuating Poverty: Exploitative Businesses, the Urban Poor, and the Failure of Liberal Reform,” suggesting that it’s time to pull the plug entirely on predatory lenders and rent-to-own outlets. If only legislators would base their decisions on what is just rather than the flow of money to their re-election campaigns. Why ban them rather than regulate them? Because it’s been attempted for a long time, unsuccessfully. These business are great at evading the spirit of regulation.
In the end, the urban poor who shop and borrow at rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns do in fact pay exorbitant amounts that are much higher than what they would pay for goods at Walmart or loans at the local bank. As scholars have argued for almost fifty years, it is routinely the case that the poor pay more than middle and upper-class Americans for comparable goods and services.1 This includes food, housing, transportation, insurance, mortgages, and health care,2 and it certainly includes goods and loans from rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns.
This article has four major sections. The first three examine the business models of, in order, the rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns. Each of these business models features a highly-crafted, standardized contractual agreement that does not merely support the business but rather is central to it. The fourth section of the article reviews reformist efforts related to these businesses and also argues that these liberal efforts at reform have been ineffective. The business models and concomitant contractual agreements of rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns are so sophisticated and adjustable as to make them virtually impervious to regulation. As a result, rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns continue not only to exploit the urban poor but also to socio-economically subjugate the urban poor by trapping them into a ceaseless debt cycle. A blanket proscription of these tawdry businesses might be the only way to drive them from our midst and to eliminate their active role in the perpetuation of urban poverty.
. . .
Some practices so fundamentally affront our shared values that they should quite simply be prohibited. It is one thing to exploit the urban poor, but it is another thing to systematically worsen their socio-economic condition and to thereby subject them to greater control and subservience. Exploitation, in other words, might be tolerable in our market economy, but subjugation should not be. You can take people’s money and the value of their labor, but you not should be able to yoke them permanently or even semi-permanently to subordination. By actively making the urban poor even poorer, the rent-to-own, payday lending, and title pawn businesses do just that and should be banned.
Papke’s article can be found here. It is published by Marquette University Law School.
For more on payday loans, see various articles at this site with the word “payday,” including this look at how the battle between reformers and the industry wages on the ground.