Opinion

Felix Salmon

How to live with a financially illiterate population

By Felix Salmon
November 25, 2009

John Carney is right: a very large number of Americans is always going to be financially illiterate, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Indeed, if we try too hard to do something about improving financial literacy, there’s a good chance we’ll only end up creating a new cohort of overconfident financial illiterates who think they understand things when they don’t.

This is why we need a Consumer Financial Protection Agency: to make sure that people buying financial products don’t end up buying something that’s going to end up exploding in their face. As Elizabeth Warren so frequently says, we do it for toasters, we should be able to do it for mortgages and toasters and annuities. There’s a decent case to be made that we can and should give a decent financial education to people starting up small businesses. But there’s not much empirical evidence that it works for people more generally.

(Via Konczal)

Comments
14 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS
 

I agree. Personal responsibility is such a trite concept.

Posted by Kabeirus | Report as abusive
 

Why change anything?? 39 pages of legalese in 8-point font for a simple credit card means we’re keeping plenty of lumberjacks in business chopping down trees.Also, mandatory overdraft “protection”, my favorite banking euphemism, is a brilliant idea. So what if it leads to a $37.00 cups of coffee?! Duping America’s poorest, least-educated people into $30+ billion in overdraft fees every year means free checking for the rest of us :-)

Posted by Elizabeth Warren in 2012 | Report as abusive
 

A coworker told me this story. Some American guy went to Europe and started advertising a “Make a million Euros in six months” plan. He was flabbergasted to find himself in prison when one of his customers failed to make a million Euros in six months.The Europeans have a lot of good ideas.

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive
 

IQ testing as part of mortgage qualification. An idea whose time has come.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive
 

Last time I checked, 50% of the population had below average intelligence. It is 100% likely that this always will be true.Yes, you could require intelligence testing for a mortgage or credit card application. This obviously is a facetious suggestion, but even if it made sense, that would merely force the banks to become even more devious. Or you could create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. It would decrease the regulatory burden on the banks, and make them more efficient. Plus, it would not only protect the consumers, it would protect the entire economy.

 

This being obviously, incontrovertibly true, replacing Social Security with individual accounts would impoverish a huge slice of the American population in retirement. Why on earth does this idea ever get so much as a polite hearing?Oh, right…

Posted by David Yaseen | Report as abusive
 

Why don’t we just use existing laws to prosecute those who defraud people? Tell our judges to grow a pair and treat white collar criminals for the trash that they are.Creating a “protection agency” for everyone and everything creates a sense of personal irresponsibility. People get used to being looked after making them susceptible to schemes never previously thought of. Moreover, what happens when this “protection agency” fails to protect? Can they, too, not become captured?

 

“a very large number of Americans is always going to be XXXXXXXXX illiterate, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”"This is why we need a YYYYYYYYY Government Agency: to make sure that people buying ZZZZZZZZZZ don’t end up buying something that’s going to end up exploding in their face.”You can replace XXXXXXX with anything and the first statement is true. So using your logic the government should make all purchases for us.

Posted by Jay | Report as abusive
 

sure this isn’t a post by posner ?

Posted by Hans R Suter | Report as abusive
 

Far too short to be Posner, Hans.

Posted by Felix Salmon | Report as abusive
 

A very large number of Americans is always going to *choose to* be financially illiterate, and there’s nothing we *should* do about it.

 

But then we end with such garbage coming out of the government, like 529 college savings plans with insane fees and risk levels. Why would I trust them to devise investment products? They’ll probably be forced to advise you to get government bonds so they can borrow more money.We do need to re-regulate the federally backed mortgage market, as that was a source of the bubble, and they are still pushing prices up too high.

Posted by mattmc | Report as abusive
 

Improving financial literacy might only create “a new cohort of overconfident financial illiterates who think they understand things when they don’t”…?You know, I just don’t think history bears this out. But, disintermediation of powerful institutions (then, the Catholic church; now, the banks) and basic literacy training have to be in place for universal literacy to take place.Or were you thinking MBA courses for the masses? Then I wholeheartedly agree with you, Felix.

 

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