George McGovern on short-term lending: Freedom means responsibility

As the advocates for more and more government control continue to press their case on many issues, including in the instance of payday lending which we’ll be seeing on the ballot this fall, I came across what one South Dakotan had to say on the topic, former United States Senator and liberal icon George McGovern.

In an extensive column on the topic which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, even this conservative Republican has to give George McGovern credit. Because unlike his liberal successors who seem hell bent into casting our society into socialism, he finds value in the system he fought in World War II to defend. To be free, and to choose our own destiny; even if others might not agree with that freedom:

Nearly 16 years ago in these very pages, I wrote that “‘one-size-fits all’ rules for business ignore the reality of the market place.” Today I’m watching some broad rules evolve on individual decisions that are even worse.

Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics, including calls to regulate subprime mortgages. …

… The real question for policy makers is how to protect those worthy borrowers who are struggling, without throwing out a system that works fine for the majority of its users (all of whom have freely chosen to use it). If the tub is more baby than bathwater, we should think twice about dumping everything out.


Economic paternalism takes its newest form with the campaign against short-term small loans, commonly known as “payday lending.” …

…With payday lending, people in need of immediate money can borrow against their future paychecks, allowing emergency purchases or bill payments they could not otherwise make. The service comes at the cost of a significant fee — usually $15 for every $100 borrowed for two weeks. But the cost seems reasonable when all your other options, such as bounced checks or skipped credit-card payments, are obviously more expensive and play havoc with your credit rating.

Anguished at the fact that payday lending isn’t perfect, some people would outlaw the service entirely, or cap fees at such low levels that no lender will provide the service. Anyone who’s familiar with the law of unintended consequences should be able to guess what happens next.


.Since leaving office I’ve written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.

Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don’t take away cars because we don’t like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don’t operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.

The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

Read it all here (Subscription required)

The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.”  That might be the best point in the entire article.   Because that’s the problem. Our society is at a cross roads because that’s exactly what too many people are trying to do.

As opposed to giving people the freedom and responsibility to manage their own affairs, we are faced with a perpetually growing government charged with treating the population as they would an infant, as we surrender more and more of our freedoms.  And it’s the same thing that payday lending opponents are doing with legislative and ballot measures. It’s a smothering and overwhelming altruism.

Is it a healthy society whose every action and decision is evaluated and controlled because someone decided it was for our own good?  As a conservative Republican I don’t think so. Neither did liberal Democrat George McGovern.

Because, despite our vast differences, I believe we both shared the same vision of America as the land of freedom – not the land of socialism and government control.

I can only hope my children and grandchildren will be able to experience a free country as I was able to experience in my lifetime. But, I have my doubts. Because as we continue to travel down a path of fewer and fewer freedoms, I think there will come a point when we will question whether we can call ourselves a free society at all.

13 Replies to “George McGovern on short-term lending: Freedom means responsibility”

  1. Steve Hickey

    Good timing with the bill up tomorrow. I bet they are glad you are on the payroll, Pat. You won’t deny it [snip]

    Editor’s note – Since Steve Hickey is going to accuse everyone who disagrees with him and believes in the free market of working for Roy Alcott or whomever, if he wants to advertise his ballot measure’s position, he can buy an ad since I’m not in the business of giving away advertising to people who insist on being jerks.

    1. Inspector

      Hickey, will you be at the hearing or are you dodging personal appearances after your petition antics?

  2. Anonymous

    McGovern is correct. Payday lenders provide a service for people who might not have other options.
    Years ago the darling daughter parked In the wrong place and got her car towed. She didn’t have the cash for the combined fines, towing and impound fees and payday was a week away.
    My resolve to let her learn from her mistake quickly evaporated after calculating how much it would cost if the car stayed in the impound lot that long, and I paid it for her ASAP.
    Not everybody has cash reserves or parents. It would be nice if everybody did, but for those who don’t, there are payday lenders.

  3. Observer

    Steve is still punchy about this I see. Not surprising. Anyone who disagrees with him gets the same treatment it seems.

  4. .

    McGovern brought home the bacon to farmers when their was no price Subsidies.Also broughT food to feed the young and starving.Like pay day lenders today I think 400 hundred percent is way to high.I bet he would think today that would be stealing.

  5. Springer

    It’s a good thing that McGovern isn’t around today to see what his Democrat party has become today.

    1. Springer

      Speaking as a former Democrat, the party left me, and the party also has left McGovern behind in its quest for socialist policies and big government as the solution to all our problems.

  6. Troy Jones


    You obviously haven’t been around long. McGovern had always been spoken well as a person of integrity at the SDWC. Disagreeing with his positions on many issues are not an attack on his character. And finding agreement on issues on occasion isn’t a sacrifice of principles. Not all issues are broad idealogical fights. Sometimes bad ideas are bad ideas.

    McGovern’s understood saying something is good for the poor doesn’t make it so. His liberalism was in the strain of Moynahan and not Socialism.