John Oliver took on payday loans on last night's Last Week Tonight, vacillating as only he can between bafflement and outrage. The anger was for loan interest rates up to 1900%. The confusion was over why the industry can't be stopped.
Payday loans – or, as one could guess, loans that must be paid back on the next payday – are a massive industry in the U.S. There are more payday loan lenders in this country than there are McDonald's and Starbucks locations. Oliver's biggest issue with them isn't their ubiquity, however; it's their vicious circle nature that prevents people from escaping.
"It's the circle of debt!" Oliver sang to the familiar Lion King theme. "And it screws us all."
So why can't payday loans be stopped? "They are incredibly good at avoiding regulation," Oliver noted, using Texas as an example. "They actually tried to rein in the payday loan industry there a few years ago." Unfortunately, State Rep. Gary Elkins – himself an owner of a payday loan chain – managed to block the bill.
In the clip above, Oliver also points out similar efforts that were quashed or avoided in places like Ohio and Arizona. One effort even involved payday loan companies teaming up with Native American tribes – thus granting them their sovereign immunity.
Trying to defeat the industry is like "legislative Whack-a-Mole," Oliver said of the futile efforts: "Just when you think you've squashed them, they pop up somewhere else, wearing a completely different outfit."