Saturday, August 6, 2011

This You Must Learn To Do

"This you must learn to do. To live without." -- spoken by Dr Anna Klaus, in The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

Over the past weeks, pretty much all we've heard about is the debt ceiling and the problems that the United States would face if Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. rating. Well, that's happened now. Everyone has their own ideas about how this happened, how we got here, and who is to blame for it. But it has happened, and instead of pointing fingers we should now be addressing the real problem.

The real problem is that everyone wants everything and they want it now. No matter if we haven't got the money to pay for it; that's what borrowing is all about, isn't it? And if the bill comes due, we can just borrow from somewhere else to pay that off, yes?

The U.S. attitude has always been -- particularly since the 1980s -- a pretty careless one where money is concerned. The number of applications for credit that appear in snail mail and e-mail boxes is obscene. The exhortations to pay off this card with another one mount up constantly. And the notion of refinancing seems to have become another unalienable right.

And the U.S. government is not immune to this way of thinking. Officials at all levels respond to offers to extend credit in the same way as ordinary citizens.

So, now everyone is distressed because things are going to get tougher. And this is another failing of all political parties, and all politicians. None of them seem to get it: We are going to have to stop this never-ending cycle of borrowing and living off someone else's dime. Things are going to have to get tougher, and that should mean for everyone.

If the government -- all of the departments and officials -- really gets it and devises a way to live within its means, then just maybe there is a possibility that the citizens will learn to do this as well. But if they continue to allow the rich to escape the consequences of this downgrading, people lower down the financial food chain will never learn, either.

"Live within your means, never be in debt, and by husbanding your money you can always lay it out well. But when you get in debt you become a slave. Therefore I say to you never involve yourself in debt, and become no man's surety. If your friend is in distress, aid him if you have the means to spare. If he fails to be able to return it, it is only so much lost." -- Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), U.S. president.

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