“Till debt do us part.”
In the late 90’s a good friend of mine frequently expressed his concerns about personal debt in America. From time to time, he continued to share stats about the enormous debt load being accumulated by consumers.
Around 2007 he stated that personal debt had increased by 300% since 1990. Wages, in real terms, had been increasing only 1% per year over the same period. In other words, we were spending way more than we were making, just one more factor contributing to the housing defaults of 2008.
One writer who specifically zeroed in on this problem was James D. Scurlock, author of Maxed Out: Hard Times in the Age of Easy Credit. Essentially, according to Scurlock, we live in a debt culture. College debt, consumer debt, second mortgages, loan services, easy credit… From the time we enter adulthood at age eighteen we’re not only bombarded with credit card offers, but we’re also told that our ability to handle debt is a good thing for our credit rating.
A review on Amazon.com included this statement about the book: “This engaging narrative presents numerous stories about easy credit given to students, the poor, the weak and the uninformed, whose lives are ruined by their debt burden, including some cases of suicide.”
I knew a woman whose father committed suicide because of his debts. He was not one of the poor, weak or uninformed mentioned here. Just another casualty of the American way.
It’s funny how pawn shops have grown in importance in our country. I don’t ever recall seeing a pawn shop when I was a kid, though I am sure they existed because someone had to be a fence for stolen goods, right? Now, pawn shops are a part of any urban landscape, taking advantage of desperate people by offering cash at ten cents on the dollar for what is often a prized possession.
Debt consolidation services, encouragements to fix everything with a second mortgage, all these tools exist to stay above the waves, or as Scurlock puts it, to surf a wave of debt.
Not mentioned yet in the book, but of concern to me, is that our country now exports these ideas which lead to enslavement of new candidates for borrowed money. We have mutual funds which actually head into the Third World offering help to the poor by loaning money, then charging exorbitant interest. These people have no experience with all that fine print. They only see the cash and the ability to stave off hunger for their little ones. It’s an ugly business.
Returning to the review on Amazon: “In recounting the history of credit cards and the effort to sell credit as a lifestyle, the author claims that credit given to those who do not have the ability to repay it is entrapment. His is an urgent call to arms in the way we think about debt; he blames financial institutions and a seemingly powerless Congress that during the past 30 years has allowed bankers to make the rules on extending credit. While not everyone will agree with Scurlock, this is a valuable perspective for library patrons in our materialistic, debt-ridden society and provides excellent education on an important topic.”
If one thinks excessive debt is a problem for individual, one has to wonder what the current stimulus package is going to do to our country. A lot of people think the government can bail us out of anything, and why not a debt crisis? Haven’t they always bailed us out before?
Here is a 2009 article from Reason magazine in which a group of economists weighed in on what ultimately passed as legislation designed purportedly to stimulate our economy. The online version of the piece, which I recommend to you, is called The Reason.com Stimulus Symposium in which a panel of leading economists sound off on the $800 billion stimulus package.
So it seems our government leaders are cut from the same piece of cloth as ourselves. We keep telling ourselves that if only we had “just a little more” (money) we can fix everything. What do you think? Read ’em and weep? Seems like sooner or later someone always has to pay.
Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com