Of baseball, tennis and predatory lending

I’m married to a Red Sox fan, and Friday night he was upset when his Sox won. This doesn’t happen often, so he had my attention. Apparently a fan interfered with a hit that should have allowed LA to tie the game, but a bad call on the play stood and gave Boston the victory.

“The manager knew, the team knew it, the fans knew it,” he said. “The manager should have just given LA the run. But of course he would have been fired for doing that.”

tennisThe source of much of his ire comes from the fact that he plays tennis, a “gentleman’s” game even for ladies. At all but the highest levels of play, competitors referee themselves and are expected to make calls fairly, not in their own best interest. It’s not a flawless system, but most tennis players buy into it and try to get it right.

He got me thinking. There are two ways to approach any competition. One is to take every advantage that you can. Soccer players writhing in imagined pain hoping to inflict a foul on the other team are an extreme example of this. In this world, the savvy player tries to play everyone, and get away with everything possible. The only goal is to win.

The other approach is cooperative only in the sense that one of the goals is to get the calls right. Players believe that points should be scored and games won with good rules that are fairly applied.

What do you think happens most often in a close competition between a team or person taking the first approach and one taking the second? Yes, you’re right. I believe we call it “nice guys finish last.”

This got me thinking — what is the U.S. philosophy for doing business? Well, I think there are plenty of ethical people would prefer to not only follow the letter of the law, but who would also choose to follow the spirit of the law, thereby behaving like the ladies and gentlemen on a tennis court, if you will.

loansBut, business is lot more complicated than any sport, and the rules and the playing field are always changing. Therefore, the ability to weasel around the rules is so much greater. If you put an adept weaseler in competition with a businessperson who is trying to do it right, who do think is going to drive whom out of business? More often than not? Yeah, I think so too.

A few weeks ago I read about proposed legislation to regulate what is known as predatory lending traps. These payday and auto title loans are part of a business model built on lending money to people who probably can’t afford to pay you back, thereby giving the lender the opportunity to roll over the principal into a new loan at much higher interest rates. If you’d like to know more about this practice, you can read a Southern Poverty Law Center article on how these practices wreck people’s lives. The proposed new rules would apply to products that are aimed at financially vulnerable consumers with the intent of setting them up to fail with loan payments. You can read about the new rules at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

umpireLike most people, I don’t like rules. I used to think that the less we had of them the better. However, being married to a sports fanatic has taught me a few things and one of them is that if you don’t have fair and reasonable rules to cover a situation, then the team or person with the least integrity will take advantage. When done right, rules and referees are there to make the game fair, and to see that the best player, not the most devious player, wins. Rules in the business world are there for the same purpose.

life lessons18Of course, there are those that say what goes around comes around, and that those who profit unfairly will get what they deserve eventually. I think that is probably true, but I’m not willing to see people suffer while waiting for cosmic justice.

Yes, yes, I know that sometimes it does come rather quickly. Last night Boston played LA again, for the second game in the series. They lost by a comical 21 to 2. My husband is happy because as far as he is concerned, the two teams are now even. He has high hopes that Boston will win today.