Bank of America: Death by a thousand cuts


Despite what big banks would lead you to believe from their advertisements, the difference between the service most mega institutions dole out and that which the “average” person receives at a community bank is palpable.

Take this example: In late February, a Columbia, SC, attorney was in Simpsonville, SC, to meet with a client and needed to get a document notarized. The attorney walked into a Bank of America branch in Simpsonville and asked for assistance.

The Bank of America employee’s first words were: “Are you a customer?”

“No, ma’am,” replied the attorney.

“It’s the bank’s policy not to notarize anything unless it’s for a customer,” the employee said.

The attorney was taken aback. “Really? You only notarize for bank customers, because notary public is a public service that’s supposed to be available to anyone.”

The employee, with more than a twinge of disgust in her voice, said she’d get her manager.

A few moments later, a Bank of America manager came around the corner and blurted out: “She’s right, we don’t notarize except for customers.”

The attorney was growing increasingly frustrated. “All we need is to get a one-page document notarized.”

The manager responded rote-like: “It’s the bank policy not to notarize anything except for customers.”

At this point, the attorney opted not to point out the fact that Bank of America had received approximately $45 billion in federal aid recently, so theoretically every single American is a Bank of America customer, but instead went down the street to a First Citizens Bank office.

The difference between Bank of America and First Citizens was night and day, the attorney said.

“Before we could even sit down in the lobby, a customer service representative asked how she could help us,” the attorney said. “I explained that we need to have a document notarized.

“Come on over and let’s see what we can do for you,” she said.

The attorney mentioned briefly the trouble she’d had at the Bank of America branch up the road and the First Citizens representative said she felt it was her duty to do whatever she could to help the community.

“I couldn’t help but be struck by how friendly and helpful everybody at First Citizens was, particularly after what had happened at Bank of America,” the attorney said. “It really reminded me of what banks and banking used to be like years ago.”

Of course, a couple of short-sighted employees at a small Bank of America branch in Upstate South Carolina doesn’t necessarily mean the entire organization is rotten, but it may well be indicative of a need for the company to rethink the way it does business.

When your industry’s reputation is in the toilet, your stock price is less than $5 a share and you’re in the process of laying off tens of thousands of employees, you’d think your employees might understand the value of a little positive public relations. 

But perhaps the above gaffe in small-town South Carolina, no matter how minute, is indicative of Bank of America’s problems as a whole, and helps to explain how the financial services giant and its counterparts got themselves into the dire straits they find themselves today.


Why the spike in Econ enrollment may be bad


National Public Radio reports that at Ohio’s Oberlin College, registration in undergrad economics classes is up 25 percent this year, and the chair of the department says he’s never seen anything like it. NPR finds a similar surge in classrooms across the country.

“So is undergraduate economics getting sexier? In a word: yes,” reads to the NPR teaser.

Is this a good thing? Depends on what kind of economics is being taught, and how it’s being taught. If yet another generation of 18-24-year olds is being lulled to sleep with monotone monologues on the theories behind supply curve shifts, elasticity and equilibrium quantity, with a focus solely on Keynesian economics, the exercise is likely of little use.

Too many economics professors today put too much stock in mathematical formulas and not enough in the study of the complex dynamics of human behavior in which incentives, interaction, preferences, and even individual “quirkiness” cannot be effectively plugged into a mathematical model, as Brandon Crocker said a few years back.

But if students are fortunate enough to be studying under the likes of Walter Williams, Don Boudreaux or Russell Roberts at George Mason University, Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution, or any of the more than 250 faculty members of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, then they’ve got a good chance to not only learn something useful, but find that economics can be an interesting field of study, as well.


Virginia court strikes blow for individual rights


Striking a blow for individual rights, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Friday that a rare 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence  belongs to a Virginia man, not the State of Maine.

Richard Adams Jr. of Fairfax County purchased the document from a London book dealer in 2001 for $475,000. But the state of Maine claimed it belongs to the town of Wiscasset, where it was kept by the town clerk in 1776, according to The Associated Press.

Adams’ attorney argued that Wiscasset’s town clerk copied the text of the Declaration of Independence into the town’s record books on Nov. 10, 1776. It’s that transcription, not the document upon which it was based, that is the official town record, Adams’ attorney, Robert Richardson, said.

“The fact that the print was not made by an authorized public officer and was not intended to be the official memorial of the Declaration precluded the print from qualifying as a ‘public record’ under common law,” the court said in its ruling.

Virginia’s high court said that a lower court did not err in its ruling in Adams’ favor because Maine didn’t prove the document was ever an official town record and that Adams had superior title to the print, The Associated Press reported.

The State of Maine, not surprisingly, was flabbergasted that an individual’s rights took precedence over those of the state.

“Maine state archivist David Cheever said he found it ‘incredible’ that the state’s rights were trumped by a private collector. Maine contended the document never should have been sold because of a state law which presumes that public documents remain public property unless ownership is expressly relinquished by the government,” according to The Associated Press.

Whether it was an official record or not, the document apparently was retained by Solomon Holbrook, Wiscasset’s town clerk from 1885 until his death in 1929. An estate auctioneer found it in a box of papers in the attic of Holbrook’s daughter’s home after she died in 1994, The Associated Press reported.

Thomas Knowlton, the assistant attorney general who represented Maine in the legal dispute, said the state was extremely disappointed in the decision.

“… we strongly disagree with the court’s interpretation of the law and its application of the law to these facts,” according to The Portland Press Herald. “The result is that a public record that we believe rightfully belongs to the people of Maine is being held by a private collector in Virginia.”

Here’s the bottom line: As with anything of value or potential value, the government feels it should have first dibs on it.

If this document meant so much to Wiscasset and the State of Maine, perhaps they should have done a better job of keeping track of it over the years, rather than grasping for it once someone else showed an interest in it.