American Weakness: Individual Debt and Societal Debt

The U.S. has largely become very comfortable with debt. At left, the two large scanned documents are from the March 14, 2011 Time magazine.
The second, smaller image at left is from the NY Times of April 11, 2011. It actually provides statistics that refute the larger graph at left ~ that student debt has eclipsed credit card debt.

Additionally, a recent Freakonomics podcast I listened to used an economist’s study that found that over half of Americans couldn’t come up with $2,000 if an emergency dictated it (they would be forced to go to a bank for a loan, ask friends and relatives, or visit the cast of Pawn Stars on set.

This seems to be a generational shift. I’ve been watching The War (the PBS Ken Burns documentary on WW2), and listened intently to the stories of rationing and material drives (i.e. rubber, cooking fat for glycerin, and spare cotton rags) and Victory Gardens ~ all a part of a shared national sense of purpose. As one woman from Mobile put it, “we had lived thorough the Great Depression and had done without once before.”

In my mind, one of our national liabilities and great weaknesses is our current sense of entitlement. That we, as U.S. citizens, can have literally everything and anything we’d care to want, without providing any meaningful input into the system of national government that enables this prosperity.

As the base of this prosperity is largely hollow, supported by our habits of consumption and debt, we can expect to see our rankings in the above chart continue to drop (#1 in 2007 to #10 in 2010) until we shore up this liability.

Individual debt leads to societal norms that make national debt more acceptable. And when countries fall into great debt, harmful and distasteful choices are forced on them (i.e. Greece, Ireland).

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.

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