The community lending hearings held by the bank and thrift regulators in late August made two issues clear.
First, the hearings revealed that community development is not a logical or humane issue. Rather, it is a political issue, with special interests arguing from a very specific and narrow perspective.
Second, the hearings revealed that the problems of community development will not be resolved until both sides discard their blinders and broaden their perceptions.
Besides the psuedo-attempts to appear concise by cramming 45-minute speeches into 15-minute time slots, the rapid-fire reading of prepared texts was an example of political posturing at its best, or worst.
Unfortunately, hearing rules nearly ensure such performances by requiring that copies of whatever testimony is presented be given to the group holding the hearings.
In other words, the hearing are mere show. The real challenge to each group is to get a detailed position paper into the written quagmire of special interests, to be studied later by the regulatory agencies.
If the positions of every presenter were taken literally, it could be concluded that we should fee:
* Fortunate that the banking industry has provided billions of dollars of financing for decades. Without it, many people would not have homes, jobs, or their own businesses.
* Disappointed that the banking industry has not done more, such as accepting the moral responsibility to find ways to finance the needs of minorities and people of low or moderate income.
* Fortunate that the community action and development groups have made the tremendous inroads toward helping to provide shelter, jobs, and a better quality of life for so many people.
* Disappointed that the community action and development groups have not been more effective with the billions of dollars provided via loans, grants, and donations to help these needy people.
* Totally confused.
So it goes with political hearings.
Both sides presented strong arguments that are consistent with the cliche: "I believe what I see."
The banking industry sees the billions of dollars of loans that have been used to finance community and economic development. Therefore, it believes that the community action groups lack any semblace of sanity when crying that the industry has not fulfilled its moral obligation to society.
Community action groups see the dearth and decay of daily living for thousands of people, as well as the improvements that can be provided these people when community development financing is forced from banks via the Community Reinvestment Act.
Therefore, these groups believe that banks have failed society, especially in meeting the credit needs of people of low or moderate income.
Neither Side Right or Wrong
As an alternative, I suggest that both groups step back and consider that their testimonies might reflect that each side is arguing from a very narrow perception.
This might let both groups, and the regulatory agencies as well, see that neither side is right wrong.
The real issue is not who did or did not do what to whom. The issue is how to solve the financing needs of this country's low-income citizens.
An End to Accusations
Since Congress has no idea how to solve the problem, the question is how Americans can help other Americans.
When the banking industry and the community action groups truly understand this concept and look at the perceptual foundation of their arguments, the accusations and defensive justifications will no longer be needed.
The Community Reinvestment Act will fall to the wayside. Practical, profitable, and proper solutions will surface.
If you doubt this, consider the actions of NationsBank Corp. and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which are working together to develop solutions for financing the needs of low-income people.
Their approach implies a belief that if solving this problem is the right thing to do, the right way to do it will follow.
The bottom line will be profitable loans for the bank and a higher quality of life for many people.
Mr. Stevenson is executive vice president of Young & Associates Inc., a consulting form in Kent, Ohio. He has written compliance handbooks on fair lending regulations.