Friday, May 7, 2010


As I was growing up, my folks whispered a subversive, un-American, anti-capitalist idea in my ear. Not only did they teach it to me, they lived it out. That dangerous idea: don't live beyond your means.

Outside of having mortgage debt, they took out no loans. Period. Ever. They always spent less than they made. That meant a humble but functional home. That meant cars that were purchased not as status symbols, but as ways to get around. Those cars were often purchased used, and they were purchased with cash on the barrel head. That meant clothes that...well...might have been in fashion 15 years ago, when they were bought. College for the kids? That was saved for. Home improvements? Paid in cash, after saving for years.

A credit card was a dangerous thing. It...meaning the one and only card you allowed yourself to have...was to be paid off every month, and watched as warily as a bobcat in a nursery.

As best we can, my family has tried as best we can to stick to this approach to financing our lives, while all the while feeling a bit strange. It's just so out of touch with the way the world works. This is not the way we good capitalist consumers have been taught to live. Nor, quite frankly, is it the way that our governments do business.

That is, I'm convinced, why the world increasingly finds itself in such a financial fustercluck. When you can live large, charge after charge, eventually, inescapably, you'll drive yourself into personal ruin. When housing speculation feeds off of the false abundance of irrational subprime lending, suddenly homes are driven out of reach of the average family. When those loans fail, as they inevitably must, our entire financial system totters. When entire nations decide to live high on the borrowed hog of their sovereign debt, the system shakes even more. That shaking hasn't even really begun, kids. Endemic debt has this way of destabilizing societies, be they the ancient Hebrew people or our newfound global community. That's the reason debt was viewed so warily by the Torah. A society that allows indebtedness to run any level...will eventually tear itself to pieces.

We conveniently forget, even in this putatively "Christian" nation, that our sacred texts never ever no not never teach that the false abundance of debt-driven living is something worth seeking.
Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you.
I can't imagine that our comfy bed of debt will still be under us, as a nation, for very much longer.