Thursday, April 24, 2008

Overegging overdrafts

Last month I went into the red on my bank account: silly me. I was £11 overdrawn for 3 days. My bank kindly included a letter with my monthly statement (they couldn't afford a separate letter - or to call me) informing me of a £28 charge being applied to the account.

Not great, but fair enough: they fine me for breaking the rules. They don't make much money out of me other ways, so I let them have this from time to time to stop them getting any ideas about charging me for a bank account (like First Direct do).

Anyway: the next month I received another letter with my monthly statement. Apparently they intended to take another £28. Why? Because the 3 days I was overdrawn happened to span two (arbitrary and unknown to me) statement periods. To their mind, I'd been overdrawn in two reporting periods, so 2 x £28.

I spotted this, called them and was happily told my Customer Service Representative would 'discuss it with the branch manager': it remains to be seen if the second charge applies.

So I'm happy to read today that 'Banks lose overdraft charges case'. Why? Not because I think £28 as a fine is too large for the crime (which I do). Not because I despise the money-grabbing, immoral capitalists that are bankers (which I do). I'll tell you why:

The banks rewrote their terms and conditions about a year ago when all this hoohaa over charges was bubbling to the surface. They brought in some kickass lawyers. Previously, the £28 was straightforwardly a charge for going overdrawn - and therefore subject to regulation over what can be charged. They now claim when you attempt a transaction that will put you overdrawn you are requesting an overdraft, a service from the bank. The bank charges you £28 for considering this request for a service. It's not a fine: certainly not! It's a service - and thus not subject to regulation: voila.

I wouldn't often make financial service requests after 5 pints at 4.30am via the keypad of some underground tavern; my bank apparently disagrees.

Let's hope the courts introduce a little common sense back into the equation.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

It'll never work, that communism capitalism

The state has already bailed out the greedy banks, to the tune of £50 billion (with the possibility of £100 billion). It's now announced that the state is bailing out homeowners.

I don't own a house: I rent. I'd stayed out of the house market for a reason. I'm not smug about it, but I saw this coming. I spent many evenings, about 3 years ago, sat in Excel: the increase in property prices vs earning was clearly unsustainable. The best we could hope for was a soft landing - and indeed we've had one so far. But I steered clear altogether.

So.. do I get to enjoy the winnings on my bet? Do I get to benefit from my prudence and foresight?

No: I get to subsidise (via my taxes) all those that jumped in with both feet and are now feeling the heat. The state is actively engaged in removing my opportunity to benefit; to e.g. snap up a property that would be repossessed. That's what the 'market' would have happen. It's what I thought I had a right to expect to happen.

But Alastair Darling has intervened in the market, created an imbalance: chosen homeowners over me. Chosen to protect the foolhardy, the overindulgent; the ones that bought into the capitalist, credit-driven boom without a thought to their own future. To save people from their own bad decisions. At my expense! And a double whammy at that: I can't get a bargain house, saving money, because I'm subsidising those in the houses via my taxes, costing me money.

Thanks very much, Gordon Brown!

Beyond the personal, one must ask: where's the free market now? Why isn't it being left to self-destruct? Why are its problems being solved by the state, thus it given oxygen as 'something that works'? This model that our whole society is based around..

Because the government believes in, indeed the global consensus is that: Capitalism Works.

Despite all this evidence to the contrary: the system collapsing around our ears, the inability of it to protect itself, the headlines every day: Capitalism Works.

Does it? If so, why is the state having to intervene massively to keep it working?

I hope this clear and distinct failure of Capitalism to prevent or resolve its own issues isn't lost on people. Though I wish I could name someone out there making this point to them.

They tell me Communism will never work. Capitalism ain't doin a great job either.