Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Living Beyond Our Means

I think drug addiction is a scourge of humanity. I'm starting to think the same about credit.

Think about how lenders were pushing easy credit before the sub-prime mortgage crisis the way a drug dealer peddles addictive drugs--looking for easy targets, vulnerable people, wanting to make money and not caring how it wrecks a persons life. Credit card companies targeting college students (who have little to no source of income).

Our materialistic culture, where wants have become needs, is the perfect petrie dish for this virus to grow. Make people feel entitled and you can get them to buy all sorts of things they can't afford.

I use a credit card. I love being able to pay for things with it because it is super convenient. But I pay it off each month; never had a balance, hopefully I never will. If I can't afford something, I don't buy it. I like to consider myself responsible. But what about those people who aren't responsible or financially educated, who spend more than they make on a consistent basis, or buy houses they can't afford, and find themselves in major debt or foreclosure, or even find themselves addicted to credit cards?

It's been bothering me because it affects society as a whole, for the worse, and I feel powerless to do anything about it except lead by example. I feel bad for the guy who has been faithfully paying his mortgage and is surrounded by foreclosed houses, driving down the value of his house. That could easily be us. I find myself judging, and angry. We all have to live with the fallout.

Everyone knows the story of the ant and the grasshopper. The ant was responsible, working all summer to save food for the winter while the grasshopper didn't. Winter came and the grasshopper comes asking for help because he has nothing saved. The grasshopper is suddenly poor, but it's his own fault. What is the Christian response? Do we let the grasshopper lie in the bed that he has made, forcing him to be accountable for his actions, or help him out of a sense of Christian charity to 'the poor', turning a blind eye to what got him in this mess in the first place?

I don't know the answer. I have been wrestling with it since this whole financial crisis began. I feel for the poor, those who have lost their house, etc., but I want people to be held responsible for their bad choices, and their spending rather than saving, as well. I can't do all this without judging, either, which makes things worse (Granted, not all poverty is related to bad choices. Misfortune, disability, losing a job, etc all contribute to sudden poverty). But do you just turn a blind eye to it? Aren't we forced to judge to make prudent decisions?

In the 20's, during the Great Depression, people didn't have the same kind of access to credit that we have today. That means that if you didn't have the money to buy something (and a lot of people didn't), you didn't buy it. You suffered because of it. You learned how to stretch your money because you had to. As the saying went, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." How often do we do that today?

I know this sounds preachy, or superior or whatever, but I don't know how to make it sound otherwise. I'm pissed with the state of our economy, and how it got this way in the first place, and I'm looking to blame. It has me feeling sour...

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