Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Is Anyone Responsible?

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Is Anyone Responsible?

Article excerpt

Short of something libelous, we can print pretty much anything we choose in this space. Of course, if we write something outrageous, inflammatory, idiotic, or just plain dull we will have to take the consequences.

Or will we?

We could simply declare that we were morally and emotionally bankrupt at the time we wrote the column and walk away from it as though it were never written. Or perhaps the author--the fellow peering at you from the upper right hand corner--could say he was genetically predisposed to be inflammatory, thus rendering him immune from accountability.

The framers of the Bill of Rights didn't create a corresponding Bill of Responsibilities. Perhaps they should have. It seems as if they had a better sense than people do now that rights inherently bring responsibilities. You could even say that the person with the most rights has the most responsibility.

The astonishing surge in personal bankruptcies in the last several years--a surge occurring amidst one of the most prosperous periods in the country's history--is a perfect example of the dominance of rights over responsibility. Bankruptcy laws, for individuals or businesses, were never intended to become just another financial planning tool. The original laws arose to ease the distress of various financial panics and economic depressions of the last century.

This month's cover story (p.30), written by Executive Editor Steve Cocheo, who has been covering bankruptcy for us for 18 years, explains how the bankruptcy law revisions in 1978 and 1986 significantly altered the creditor/debtor balance. The article explores in particular the proposed remedies of the Federal Bankruptcy Commission, whose final report is due out in October. Much to lenders' chagrin, the current proposals relating to consumers, if anything, give more weight to debtors.

This state of affairs results in part from the gradual diminishing of the concept of personal responsibility--i.e. making a decision and abiding by the results, good or ill. This decline is apparent not only among individuals as debtors, but also individuals as lenders. Institutions themselves have no moral precepts, only the people who organize and run them do. The same "dumbing down" of responsibility on the debtor side of the equation has corrupted the creditor side as well.

So while many individuals have obscured the sense of obligation resulting from borrowing money, preferring to think of credit as a right and a means to a particular lifestyle, so have individuals on the lending side obscured their sense of responsible extension of credit. …

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