Friday, January 29, 2010

Were PBS Documentaries this bad?

...when I was one and twenty and PBS documentaries seemed so sage?
It's always a disappointment to see a stupid Frontline show - the one that insomnia has me watching now originally aired last November covers credit card companies and is full of foolishness.
There is an initial focus on Providian, which was early in targeting poorer credit risks, obviously with significant penalty fees and higher interest rates on unpaid balances, to cover the obvious significant amount of defaulting they would face.  It may not be an attractive business model to you. but the show simply presents it as some sort of predation upon the poorer folk.  The discussion simply assumes that imposing enormous restrictions on such companies is 'protecting' the financially weak; right, likely protecting them from getting a credit card at all.
You know how silly the writers are when you hit this description of a 'defect' in potential legislation:
"The credit card companies are able to impose whatever interest rate ..."
They can SET whatever rate they want but nobody has to take the card at that rate, so this is hardly imposition.
Finally, there is a tone in the whole 'documentary' that there is something shocking and evil about a bank actually making money.  You know if they made money they would not be lined up so readily for bailouts from their buddies in government.
Overall the show is mostly a description of how stupid people can be - they love anecdotes about those who mismanage their money, and milk them shamelessly. 
I am all for full and clearer disclosure.  But most of what outrages the producers of this show does not bother me at all.  And OK now they are on to Payday loans and full of outrage?  It simply baffles me how the elite people who work on these documentaries cannot understand that, however punitive some of these businesses seem, they are providing poor people (by the way, I know it is not just poor people) a service.  And they are doing the usual nonsensical imputation of the transaction costs in these businesses as an interest rate.  This is just a stupid translation meant to elicit outrage.  A payday loan has relatively high transaction costs, and translating all the costs into an interest rate does not produce a number that should be compared to the interest on a treasury bond or savings account, or consumer loan, or mortgage.
Shame, shame.
Insomnia had me also watching a more recent documentary on Monarch butterflies (a crazy obsession of mine) on PBS.  It was not bad, but ended with a very unfortunate bit of wording.  At the end in a sort of romantic haze, they blathered on about the migration to Mexico being a return home.
The butterflies that get to Mexico have NEVER been there.  How is it home?  And calling it 'home' suppresses the great mystery of how the dickens they know where they are going when they have never been there!  It is reductive - removing an interesting question and replacing it with a smoky sentimentalism, unworthy in a science documentary.
Moreover, of the roughly five annual generations, only the first and last ones have ever been to Mexico, so it is not even home in any statistical measure.  It's unfortunate we get such sloppy writing and thinking.
And so to my current view - the documentaries that long ago were just as bad as these.  But I sure knew a lot less.


At 9:17 AM, Blogger EclectEcon said...

Excellent post!


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