Apparently, Chris Morran at The Consumerist doesn’t like payday loans.

Now I happen to love The Consumerist.  I think it’s a very witty and snarky website that points out the many nutty injustices consumers sometimes face, and they often intervene in some really insane cases.  So I really want to give Morran the benefit of the doubt here.

The problem is that Morran’s arguments don’t seem to make much sense, and he cites some sources that have questionable motives.   His criticism of the Zywicki/Sarvis article doesn’t hold water, and I’ll tell you why.

Zywicki and Sarvis lay out very specific arguments in their article.  Morran does not actually refute any of them.  He just quotes the Center for Responsible Lending and figures that addresses the issue, case closed.

Morran says, “there are people — well-educated people at that — who stick with the argument that payday loans are a good thing.”  These well-educated people have presented facts.  They explain in great detail how and why people use consumer credit.  They explain how people make choices.  They demonstrate the unintended consequences of regulating consumer credit.

Yet Morran, who is also a well-educated person, responds with statements that don’t make any logical sense.  Here’s one example:  “The authors also defend auto-title loans, in which the borrower uses their vehicle as collateral for high-interest, short-term loans. They claim this allows consumers without bank accounts and credit histories to obtain a loan they wouldn’t normally be able to. Thing is, auto-title loans are outlawed in more states than payday loans.”

Huh?  The point is auto-title loans are available in some states, and are therefore a source of credit that consumers choose.  He also seems to state a logical fallacy: that if something like payday or auto-title loans are not permitted in a certain state, it therefore proves they are “bad”.  This ignores political realities of how state legislators, lobbyists, activists, and the media operate.  It also suggests that, since New York State bans the sale of alcohol on Sundays until Noon, it must be “bad” to drink alcohol on Sunday mornings in every state.

Worst of all, Morran seems to just believe what this Center for Responsible Lending tells him.  Why does he believe them?  Because they have a nice name?  I’m starting my own investigation into exactly who and what this Center for Responsible Lending is, but in spending time at their website, they make the same arguments against payday lending that I’ve addressed time and again here on this blog.  In fact, it’s kind of amusing that Morran makes the claim that, “The article’s assertions are not that different from the arguments made during the height of the housing bubble by lenders who pushed borrowers into subprime mortgages — “These loans not ideal but they get people into houses who otherwise could not have gotten standard loans.”…just like those adjustable-rate mortgages” when one source says that the Center for Responsible Lending was founded by the same people who came up with these adjustable-rate mortgages in the first place.

Morran also ignores the question that nobody ever seems to want to answer.  If this choice is so very very very bad for consumers, why on earth do they keep using it?  I mean, according to the Pew Charitable Trust’s Survery on payday loans from last year, we’re talking about 12 million people that not only choose payday loans…but they choose them over and over again!

So you have to figure that these people are very very very stupid to be using something that Morran and other people say is really really really bad or…

These people feel it is the best choice among the ones available.

I’m going with the latter.  Because I think people know exactly what they are doing, and that people like Morran think they know better because they see 390% APR, and instantly conclude it must be bad, without ever having actually needed a short-term cash infusion.  If he did, he’d know that these folks don’t care about APR, they care about the flat fee.

So what’s going on here with Morran?  I suspect that, as a consumer advocate, he is naturally inclined to oppose things that appear, even on the surface, to be anti-consumer.  Okay, that makes sense.  As I said, I love the Consumerist.  Good for him.

But, and this is a big “but”, isn’t it also incumbent upon this consumer protector to thoroughly investigate every product?  That he should examine both sides of the issue?  I mean, why isn’t there anyone from the payday loan industry quoted in his article?

It is.   But instead, I suspect that Morran seeks out confirmation bias on his opinion regarding to payday loans by only talking to entities that share his point of view.  Once he has that confirmation, he feels the other side could not possibly have any merit to it.  I suspect he has never taken out a payday loan, and I also bet he has never even visited a payday loan store.  I’m going to guess that, as a result, he has never spoken to a payday loan customer.  I’m also going to guess that he has never spoken to a payday lender – a real, live payday lender!

I’m going to guess that he is viewing the world of consumer credit from an abstract, removed perspective, and totally lacks in real-world experience.   It shows.   He compares payday loan costs to credit card advance costs and regular loan costs (like for cars and homes).  Yet payday loans do not even operate in the same universe as these options.  It’s a short term loan!  Not a 30 year loan.  Not a multi-month loan.  Naturally a loan of shorter duration and smaller balance will carry a higher fee, especially when it is unsecured.

This is basic economics.

I’m also going to guess that, when I send this blog post to him, he will dismiss it because he will not want to admit that he just might be wrong.  I will say, “Hey, look at my blog and tell me why you think the points I make are wrong”, and he will say, “I don’t have time to debate you on something very obviously evil”. Strange how he has plenty of time to write about something, but not defend his own arguments or address the ones made by others.

There’s intellectual honesty and there’s intellectual bankruptcy.

Which describes what you have, Chris Morran?

[You can learn more about payday loans at the only nonpartisan blog on the web:

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