A while back I watched the documentary “Maxed Out”, and recently finished reading the book by the same name. James Scurlock developed both at the same time, and its interesting to see people profiled in one medium, then learn more about them in the other.
Both works put a personal face on America’s debt crisis by interviewing some of the people who have been hardest hit. Mr. Scurlock talks to mothers of university students who committed suicide when they couldn’t repay their credit card debts, the family of a woman who committed suicide when her husband was about to find out about her massive gambling debts, a soldier in Iraq whose wife is facing bankruptcy back home, debt collectors, pawn brokers and debt experts such as Dave Ramsey and Elizabeth Warren.
At the end of both works you’re left with a pretty bleak view of the financial situation of modern Americans. Its interesting to have a human face put on a problem and you definitely feel bad for all the people the author/director talks to.
The book and movie’s biggest failing, common to works of this nature, is that they rely on anecdotal evidence to convince you of the problem. They say look at poor person Y and how they suffer. Isn’t it awful? Whatever is causing Y must be stopped at all cost! Given the tight lens they can put on that person and their problems, whatever solution is proposed seems quite reasonable (James Scurlock advocates increased oversight of financial institutions and legal restraints on the marketing of credit cards – for the record I don’t think either idea is the worst I’ve ever heard).
The problem with anecdotal evidence is we don’t know if these are isolated cases. We’re left with the idea that their are hordes of people out there just like the ones profiled in the book and movie, but without comprehensive data its hard to be sure.
If someone wants to help ONE SPECIFIC PERSON, sure tell me about them. If you want to make changes to society as a whole, I feel you need to keep the discussion ABOUT society as a whole. Picking isolated cases and making policy changed based on them seems like a dangerous way to go about things to me. The financial institutions could probably make a movie profiling the dastardly deeds of people who committed fraud and leave us drooling at the end for harsher penalties and less legal protection for debtors.
If you’ve read the book or watched the movie, I’d definitely recommend the other if you enjoyed the first (read that sentence a few times until it make sense). If you haven’t seen either, but are interested in the real stories of Americans who have had their lives seriously damaged by debt, I’d recommend both.