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Maxed Out

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  • Posted May 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Talking About Living On Borrowed Time...Or Rather, Money

    There's no question that America is a debtor nation in a big way. As a government, we accumulate debt every day that America is in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are corporations that borrow money just to keep themselves financially afloat; it doesn't always work. There are people who owe as much on their college tuitions as they do on mortgages and we're seeing them default on both of them big time. There's even a National Debt Clock in New York that ticks away how much money were losing every second, every moment. And then, there's the credit card companies, who charge ridiculously inflated interest rates and usually go after the most vulnerable---the young, the old and the poor. These are just among the few facts depicted in James Scurlock's "Maxed Out", a muckraking documentary that will definitely make you think twice before taking out the plastic the next time you go to the mall. Or for that matter, to the gas station. The film focuses on the predatory lending practices that many of these financial institutions practice when it comes to credit cards. Scurlock makes a convincing point that a lot of the consumerism that engulfs our society today goes back to the Ronald Reagan years when materialism was deemed acceptable and many of the laws that prevented these practices were soon abolished. There are many interviews with people who have suffered greatly because of this, including a woman forced to have garage sales every week because of all the credit card bills she has to pay. We see how certain industries have flourished in the wake of all this debt, like the pawn shops. The filmmakers even manage to talk to a few of the credit collectors, who understandably go by a first-name basis, and they almost gleefully describe how calling these debt-ridden folks constantly is almost like being a pirate forcing the poor soul to "walk to plank". This cruelty certainly drives people to the breaking point; the film mentions a few suicides which may have been indirectly caused by massive credit card debt. The most revealing and interesting interviews here are with Elizabeth Warren, the savvy attorney who is now in charge of The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Her comments sbout how easily it is get sucked into debt in this country are so upfront and to the point that it's no wonder so many in the financial industry (and their ilk) have been trying desperately to discredit her or to have her fired. Mind you, this film was made just four years before the Oscar-winning "Inside Job", which described how the 2008 financial crisis nearly plunged the world into chaos. You watch "Maxed Out" and you realize that the seeds of that crisis were already in place. It wasn't until they sprouted that everyone realized how bad the situation was. And sadly, still is.

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