Forced Trust

In October 2018, I signed my first lease. It consisted of five-ish pages and very small font. It also included terms I didn’t know and things I have yet to comprehend. I also knew already that the landlord had a very bad reputation. Regardless, I signed the lease, understanding it to the best of my ability, and put faith in the landlord that he would not completely screw us over. I didn’t have a better option for where to live during my senior year at Geneseo. I signed this lease as a college-educated, English as my primary language, with parents who read over and co-signed the lease person. Even with all of those attributes, I still had to trust that my landlord created a lease that was at least mostly fair, especially regarding the intricacies that I did not understand. Every day, people are signing documents and making promises that they do not fully understand, and these things that they do not understand can be the reason they find themselves owing more money, being removed from their homes, and/or owning something that is essentially worthless. We hear it all the time: “Why don’t they teach students how to do taxes in school? Why don’t they teach them about credit and loans? Why don’t they teach them about mortgages and leases?” This information is not common knowledge but everyone sees them. Why aren’t they common knowledge? The lack of this knowledge forces us to give other people the upper hand in these high-risk deals.

In A Mercy by Toni Morrison, Florens, a slave, is traveling alone on a quest from Rebekka, her master. She carries around a sealed letter from Rebekka with her in case she is stopped and questioned. Florens trusts Rebekka and knows that the letter will help her. She trusts that what Rebekka wrote is enough. When it comes to paperwork and official documents that we do not understand, we need to place our trust in someone who knows more than we do. We need to trust their knowledge and their overall goodness that we will be okay. Yet, we need to worry about whether they may not be right or whether they may not care about what happens to us at all. As a slave, Florens has no true reason to trust Rebekka or any white person. She was born into slavery where her master sold her to Jacob to fill a debt, separating her from her mother and brother. During their time, Rebekka slowly built a relationship with Florens. Florens does not have absolute trust in Rebekka but trusts her enough to not open the letter and have faith that the letter will keep her safe need be. When she was stopped by law enforcement, Florens had to trust Rebekka’s letter. She had no better option. If the letter had not been enough, in addition to the full body search she had to endure, Florens would have been detained and punished for it.

Similarly, most people are forced to trust their banks for loans and mortgages. They are forced to trust their reality agents for advice on buying/selling. There are people at banks and reality agents who want the best for their customers, but there are also people who do not. It is not uncommon for people to be discriminated against by the people they are forced to trust in these deals. It is not fair, but there are typically no better options if someone wants a place to call home. Even if you own your home, the paperwork involving insurance, deeds, and upkeep of the house are overwhelming. There is a forced trust in these people, especially if you are not fluent in English and confrontational characteristically. If the terms were not clear on the lease or mortgage, or the wording was purposefully deceitful, expulsion is probable. Suddenly, the person you were forced to trust is uprooting you for a reason you did not know was likely. Another likely situation is that the price you believed to be paying is actually much more and you cannot afford it.

Some people have the privilege of not having to stress too much about these intricacies and whether they can trust the knowledgeable person. Some people can only hope that the person they have to trust will not be working against them. During this time of COVID-19 and increasingly high rates of unemployment, people once again have to trust things they do not fully understand, while also hoping and trusting that we will support each other during these times. We are so lucky to have the internet and so many resources to help us understand and adapt. It is amazing how many people I have seen, using their resources, help support others during this time, whether it is making PPE, donating money, or providing guides for people who need financial or health support. Yet, there are a large amount of unhelpful, incorrect, or irrelevant resources out these. Luckily, checking sources for legitimacy is something still taught at schools. Regardless, not everyone checks these resources’ credibility which creates a new issue of people who act knowledgeable about these complicated works who are actually just spreading falsities. In A Mercy, Florens was forced to trust Rebekka and Rebekka’s letter supported what she told Florens. Currently, people are forced to trust those more knowledgeable than them regarding housing specificities, but they are not always supported by these people.

What’s the Difference Between a $1 Chip and a $100 Chip? The Risk Factor

The Big Short describes the 2008 stock market crash from the points of view of those who work on and around Wall Street. Michael Lewis, the author, tells the stories of multiple people in the industry such as Michael Burry, a hedge fund manager, and Steve Eisman, an investor. Contrarily, the Turner House by Angela Flournoy details the story of a Detroit Family and their house a few months before the same stock market crash. While the Big Short depicts investors and banks in charge of CDOs to be egotistical and self-centered, the Turner House humanizes the other side of the crash. The Turner House, in doing so, inadvertently clarifies why the investors made the risky choices they did which caused the crash. 

The Big Short details how the investors and bond traders helped cause the stock market crash by slowly performing riskier trades. These investors would trade other people’s loans and mortgages. To create more beneficial trades, they would bundle large quantities of loans and mortgages into Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs). People had jobs where they had to assess and grade the contents of the CDOs and therefore ensure that the CDOs were understandably stable. As investors and stock market traders realized CDOs were highly profitable, the trading of them multiplied. As the trading of them increased, the availability of CDOs to be traded decreased. Traders then realized that they could put riskier loans and mortgages into these CDOs and still trade them as stable CDOs. Soon, the economic world was filled with toxic CDOs being traded all over the United States. This toxicity was a primary cause of the 2008 Stock Market Crash. 

I remember the 2008 crash. I was ten years old. I remember the impact the stock market crash had on the U.S. and other countries. People lost their jobs. People lost their homes. Sure, the news is never too positive but I remember watching every night and being in shock. Millions of people’s lives were affected in some way due to these investors’ decisions. Michael Lewis humanizes some Wall Street and bank employees in the Big Short. For example, he details how Steve Eisman’s son died during his career and how Michael Burry lost his eye due to cancer. Understandably good people worked in the economic field. Yet, Lewis also conveys that this crash was much bigger than any one person, even any one bank. A mindset was formed on Wall Street where investors did what they needed to do to make money and the future effects of their decisions would be ignored. It appears as though they lived by the motto, “Ignorance is bliss…” except perhaps they would add, “Ignorance with a lot of money is bliss.” Mob mentality only supported the spread of this mindset. This infuriates me. Throughout Lewis’ depiction, I continuously asked myself, “How did this happen? Why wasn’t this stopped?” I held no respect for the people who traded away others’ home loans knowing that it was a risk, nor did I want to understand why they did what they did. 

In the Turner House, Flournoy details one of the Turner children’s gambling addiction. Lelah, once again evicted, goes to a casino just to look. Contrary to common beliefs, “Lelah knew she was an addict” (Flournoy, 47).  Yet knowing this, Lelah continues to bet and gamble. Lelah enters a mindset while gambling where she would “slip into a space of just her and her hands and the chips that she tried to keep under them” (Flournoy, 49). Everything would dissolve except her and the chips. She discloses that gambling for her is about finally winning and being a victor. She had a grandson to babysit, no job, and no home, but still she went to the casino. Lelah knows what she is doing is wrong but every part of her wants to gamble. Flournoy portrays Lelah’s addiction in a manner that makes it understandable. The Turner House describes this addiction in a way the Big Short did not. 

The Mayo Clinic website details compulsive gambling as follows:

Gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like drugs or alcohol can, leading to addiction. If you have a problem with compulsive gambling, you may continually chase bets that lead to losses, hide your behavior, deplete savings, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to support your addiction.

Both Lelah and at least some Wall Street investors suffered from this addiction. Lelah’s addiction impacted herself along with her immediate family. While the investors and brokers’ addictions impacted people all over the world. Yet, the premise remains the same. They were not able to assess the risk of their bets accurately using the devices available. After being evicted, Lelah makes $300 from $20. She initially had all of her chips in $1 and $5 chips, that is over 100 tangible chips. The dealer encouraged her to change those $5 chips to $20 chips. All of a sudden, chips that represented $1 now stand for $20. The risk of betting that one chip increased by 200 times, yet the risk visually appears unchanged. Similarly, CDO managers were able to build CDOs to be riskier yet hold the same appearance. The risk of trading those CDOs were greatly increased but they visually seemed to remain the same. This change caused managers and traders to not be able to recognize the impact of trading these CDOs. They could not visualize the houses and people whose lives would be affected. Just like Lelah, their goals were to walk away as the victors.The Turner House inadvertently humanizes the Wall Street brokers who caused the 2008 Stock Market Crash. Lelah’s story speaks to the case that everyone has flaws. Addiction is not just alcohol or drugs. Addiction can be gambling. Addiction can be risky trades. The lack of fully comprehending the risk of each piece in gambles and trades increases the likelihood of them going bad. If Wall Street brokers and traders could see the impact of just how incredibly risky their CDO trades were (before they traded them), would they have still traded them? If Lelah had to gamble with cash and not chips, would she still have gambled so much? The separation between actual and perceptual cost inflates the risk dramatically. From what I understand about Wall Street and the Stock Market, traders should ensure that they are understanding the risk of their trades. The economy depends on it. Moreover, gambling addiction, including participating in trades in the Stock Market, needs to be understood, recognized, and prevented/treated. When the stakes are high enough to cause people to lose their homes, there needs to be something secure to check the health of the people trading them. 

King Lear’s Detrimental Swap

Economic terms are not just for Wall Street bankers. Every day, in one form or another, we participate in economic transactions. There is so much complex jargon that accompanies these transactions, yet three important terms are liquidity, swap, and expulsion. Investopedia defines liquidity as the degree to which an asset can be quickly bought or sold in the market at a price reflecting its intrinsic value. For example, cash has a high liquidity. I can quickly use cash to purchase a box of chicken nuggets at my local Wegmans that are sold at a price the companies have determined is reasonable. Additionally, Investopedia details swap as a contract through which two parties exchange liabilities from two different financial instruments. If I decided that I wanted a slice of my friend’s pizza, I could negotiate a swap where we create a verbal contract in which I give her five of my chicken nuggets for one slice of her pizza.  Lastly, Merriam-Webster describes expulsion as the state of being forced to leave by official action.  If my friend and I had conducted this swap in a Red Lobster, the employees could legally expel us from the restaurant as we were not customers and we had brought outside food into the restaurant. These terms name not only day-to-day interactions, but they also label larger and more pressing relations that can have much grimmer effects. Shakespeare’s King Lear begins with a swap which disturbs not only King Lear’s family, but England in all. While exchanging his land for his daughters’ flatteries, King Lear’s emotions undercut the intrinsic value of his land, therefore causing the expulsion of his truthful daughter and overall the death of his family.

In a highly important swap, Lear decides to sell his land (England) to his daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, using a currency of their flattery. He determines that the liquidity of his land is high and could be quickly swapped for his three daughters’ declaration of their love for him. Lear decides not to use his prior knowledge about his daughters in this exchange. He thoughtlessly relies on the controlled statements from each daughter. It is common knowledge that incentives affect behavior. Surveys on the receipts of fast food restaurants purposefully include an incentive for completing the survey, such as a free drink, because they know it will convince customers to take the survey. Lear ignores this knowledge by offering his daughters a part of England. Unsurprisingly, Goneril and Regan fraudulently “purchase” this land using counterfeit sycophancies. They lie to their father by saying they love him more than they actually do. After hearing her sisters’ lies, Cordelia refuses to engage in this swap of flattery for land and power. She tells her father that she has nothing to say. When prompted, she tells Lear that she loves him as much as a daughter should. Her refusal to participate in the swap displays her belief that the deal undermines the intrinsic value of the land and power. Lear allows these ingenuine compliments in this swap for something of extreme importance, and Cordelia does not believe that the exchange is legitimate due to this. Lear is enraged by Cordelia’s refusal and her attempt to negotiate. As a result, he expels her from the family and the country.

King Lear’s power and regality allow him to make such impactful decisions without regulation. Even when Kent, his trusted advisor, asks him to think about his actions, Lear expels him as well. He uses these primarily surface-level interactions in this highly important swap. Liquidity is how quickly something can be bought at its intrinsic (actual) value. As a king who honors his country, Lear should know that egocentrically asking his daughters of their love for him will not create a scenario where England is intrinsically priced. Lear’s illogical acceptance of Goneril and Regan’s deceitful offer causes Cordelia’s refusal to participate in the swap. Cordelia and Kent attempt to appeal to Lear’s sensibleness but Lear’s emotions take precedent. In such critical swaps, emotional decisions do not result in fair trades. Cordelia and Kent also represent how truthful and well-intended advice cannot always be met with reason. Instead, their expulsion represents the ideology that sound knowledge can be overpowered by emotions and deceit. The long-term result of this underestimation of liquidity, corrupted swap, and expulsion of the most loved daughter is the death of King Lear, Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril.  

The traceable origin of all four characters’ deaths are King Lear’s initial trust in Goneril and Regan and his lack of trust in Cordelia after she refuses to participate in the swap. King Lear did not make decisions based on what he already knew about his daughters. Then, he refused to listen to those he said he trusted and allowed his anger control him. This corrupted economic transaction caused their deaths. Lear did not stop to consider his actions until the consequences of it had already started. Although probably not as important as Lear’s economic transactions, everyone experiences forms of liquidity, swaps, and expulsions in their own lives even if they are not specifically titled as such. Lear caused this chaos as he did not make logical decisions. He did not consult with those he knew to trust and most importantly he did not consult his own knowledge. With our power, we need to ensure that we are using what we know and who we trust to make educated transactions. In the U.S., we are lucky enough to not have a king like in King Lear. We are able to vote to determine who gets more power that affects our lives. We can swap our votes for who we think will make extremely important transactions. Unlike Lear, we need to ensure we use all of our knowledge, resources, and beliefs when making all, and specifically these, decisions.