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LEND to the rich, GIVE to the poor (not the opposite)

Posted by Harry Seldon on October 11, 2008

We are in the eye of a stock market cyclone. How did we get there ? One humoristic explanation of the subprime crisis can be found here. Another way to say it is that the financial world completely inverted the roles by lending a lot of money (I am not speaking about microcredit) to the weaker classes and by speculating on them instead of lending money to strong companies.

When I was a child, I was always surprised when hearing the French proverb “people lend only to the rich”. As many, I was surprised because the first reaction is to think rich people do not need money, poor people do need it. So the logical thing seems indeed to lend to the poor. However, to lend is not to give. In fact, lending money is not only a time exchange. I transfer you this money now, you will transfer it back to me later. But it is even a sale. I am selling you this money for this price (interest rate). So some of our great financial engineers sold expensive products (home and loans) to people who could hardly afford them. Worst of all they speculated on these products, resulting in destroying the value of both the home and the loan. While they did that they GAVE money to the rich. Lehman Brother’s CEO made 500 million dollars in eight years and he was already rich before being CEO. More generally, the whole finance world created crazy wages.

At the same time, companies in the industry got troubles borrowing money and went on a harder pressure to make profits whatever it takes. One such extreme solution is offshoring. On the paper, it seems to generate profits, but globally it destroys value because it destroys the experience acquired by the workers, engineers and management teams (about everyone is impacted by offshoring). This experience is something totally concrete which has a high value. Unfortunately, this value might not be easy to fit in the math models our finance guys came up with.

So let’s summarize : the poor got a money they could never reimburse, companies did not get a money they could reimburse, the rich were given a real part of a money virtually created by speculation. These last ten years, finance seemed to work with this motto in mind : Lend to the poor, give to the rich. Therefore, it looks like this remainder is not superfluous : LEND to the rich, GIVE to the poor (not the opposite). With this crisis, there will sadly be plenty of new poor people and there will be plenty of companies desperately needing credits.

Thus, now is the time to actually apply this advice. And finally, if you hear again the proverb “people lend only to the rich”, just think back to the 2008 great crisis to remind you what it precisely means.

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