Equifax, Experian and TransUnion await their asbestos moment

If you watch late-night television, you’re bound to see plenty of commercials for law firms soliciting clients for their big class-action suits involving asbestos and mesothelioma, or targeting those who’ve suffered side effects from a wide array of popular medicines.

I will take it as a sign that America is getting better when I start seeing ads like that going after Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Those are the big credit-rating agencies — the unelected, unaccountable Fourth Estate of American government.

The press used to be called the Fourth Estate, but they’re not doing enough to retain that title these days. And the truth is that the credit-rating agencies have more influence on more people’s lives every day than the press does at this point.

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion shake down individuals and they shake down corporations. Their business model is intrusive and meddlesome, and simply asserts its own right to power over everyone else. The lack of any specific law stating that they have no right to such power still doesn’t mean that we all ought to be yielding it to them so willingly.

The credit-rating agencies are also terrible at what they pretend to do. Their formulas are inadequate and the data they feed into those formulas is horribly flawed. It’s supposed to be flawed — that’s part of their business model.

Really — the credit ratings agencies produce inaccurate and unreliable “scores” by design. Better data fed into better formulas would mean there’d be a smaller market for the protection racket that fuels so much of their business. If they bothered to confirm the accuracy of any of the scores they’re slapping together, then there would be no reason for anyone else to subscribe to their lucrative “see a copy of your credit report” services.

It’s evil genius. The phrase “credit-rating agency” makes it sound like these agencies should be rating credit-worthiness, but they’re explicitly advertising that they can’t be bothered to do that. Instead, they will — for a monthly fee — allow those being rated to see copies of their reports, so that the people being rated can verify that the information is accurate.

Oh, and as Ylan Q. Mui’s long report for The Washington Post demonstrates: the credit-rating agencies are also really, really racist.

What ought to happen to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion is something like what eventually happens to the King and the Duke toward the end of Huckleberry Finn. Short of that, here’s hoping at least that Richard Cordray manages to make life miserable for them and to rein in their ability to make life miserable for the rest of us.

* * * * * * * * * *

West Virginia has just begun the process of licensing and regulating manufactured home communities, which seems like a necessary and therefore positive step overall. But the details matter.

I’m not sure what to make of this item from the proposed list of new regulations:

Manufactured homes will be inspected once a year. The health department may also make as many additional inspections as deemed necessary to determine satisfactory compliance with the rules.

I’m trying to imagine the response if the owners of non-manufactured homes — i.e., non-poor people — were informed that their homes would be subject to inspection once a year.

Howard Fineman reports that Mitt Romney owns six houses: “one in La Jolla, two in the Boston area, a ski lodge in Utah and two lakeside residences in New Hampshire.”

What do you suppose he, or his lawyers and lobbyists, would say if he were told that his homes were now required to “be inspected once a year”? Rich people and poor people really do seem to live in two distinct, separate Americas.

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