Sunday, August 21, 2005

At Play in the Fields of the Lord

"Rattle me out of bed early, set me going, give me as short a time as you like to bolt my meals in, and keep me at it. Keep me always at it, and I'll keep you always at it, you keep somebody else always at it. There you are with the Whole Duty of Man in a commercial country." Charles Dickens, "Little Dorrit," 1857.

The number of individuals filing for personal bankruptcy is up over 17 percent from last year in Cleveland ... That number is up 14 percent in Milwaukee and a whopping 22 percent in northern Iowa. Nationwide, bankruptcy filings for April, May, and June were up by 12 percent over the same period last year.

According to today's NYTimes, "bankruptcy filings rose eightfold over the last 30 years, from 200,000 in 1978 to 1.6 million last year. Although filings vary from month to month, the pace for this year, if it holds up, projects to about 1.8 million bankruptcies. The overwhelming majority of them are personal, not business."

What's driving this surge? Last April, thanks to a few nominal Democrats who voted with the Republicans, the U.S. Congress passed, and El Presidente happily signed into law, a major overhaul of bankruptcy law which threatens to bring back conditions that Charles Dickens wrote about in "Little Dorrit." Don't call it The Bankruptcy Bill. Call it "The Debtor's Prison Enablement Act of 2005."

Okay, okay, so the airheads who've been living like sailors on shore-leave off credit cards are about to get their comeuppance, and maybe there's a sliver of my proto-Republican psyche that finds that satisfying. These suburbanite kids who grew up in a consumer society and learned no school work nearly as well as the work of mall trawling are now crashing and burning all around us, albeit their funeral pyres burn all the brighter for the designer duds they're wearing, and the trendy electronics they've piled up on credit, and the cool wheels, etc. But dammit, they've done their best to be "All American," to emulate what Republican regimes have laid before them as necessary to be saved, only to find they're damned to debtor's hell.

Some of these bankruptcy stories -- a LARGE number, we would guess -- are not due to silly consumer drunkenness but to the health-care crisis in this country, like the example detailed in the NYTimes story referenced above: "...the Moore family of Boise, Kevin and Linda, listing a $10 cat and a $5 toaster among their meager assets against a medical bill of more than $18,000."

El Presidente feels their pain? Don't make me choke on a chortle.

Watching the Sunday morning gasbags talk darkly about (a) energy prices and (b) the housing bubble and (c) the lack of personal savings by the majority of Americans, and then opening my NYTimes to this bankruptcy article, could -- COULD, I said -- turn me into a cellar-dwelling hermit guarding my supply of canned goods with a good-sized gun. And maybe there's a sliver of my proto-democratic psyche that thinks, "bring it on!" because it'll take a general collapse of every damn thing to rid us of these ruling Ebenezer Scrooges.

Dark thoughts for the dog days. Who of us are not more than one major medical crisis away from the poor house? And now we can't even afford the gas to drive there.

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