Obama's crackdown on credit card abuses and why it won't work


President Obama and top economic adviser Lawrence Summers are preparing to take on the credit card industry and its abusive practices -- including surprise rate hikes on on-time customers, at the same time the financial sector is receiving billions in bailout money.

But the whole thing is so backwards: Why didn't the White House push for greater consumer protections before it started doling out the government cheese to financial institutions looking to pay billions in bonuses?

"We need to do things to stop the marketing of credit in ways that addict people to it," Mr. Summers said on "Meet the Press." Summers accused the banks of practices that lead consumers to be "deceived into paying extraordinarily high rates that they wouldn't have paid if they knew they were getting themselves into."

The problem with this whole crackdown on abusive credit card practices is that it's in direct conflict with the conventional wisdom that we need to stimulate the economy by increasing consumer spending: If we push banks to stop the predatory lending practices that provide cash to people to buy stuff they don't need, consumer demand will continue to fall. Of course I think that would be a good thing. I don't think we should be looking to bailout the economy with credit-driven purchases by consumers with underfunded retirement plans and no emergency fund.

But for now, the Obama administration seems to want it both ways: a crackdown on exploitative consumer lending practices and an increase in consumer spending. I say you can't have both at once.

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