In today’s New York Times, columnist David Brooks writes about seduction by debt. The United States was founded on a moral structure that emphasized hard work and thrift, he says, and this helped the country grow affluent. But somehow we’ve lost our way. He writes:
The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened. The country’s moral guardians are forever looking for decadence out of Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money.
Our entire way of life is now based on easy money. State governments push lottery games. The Federal government deficit spends. Credit card companies and payday lenders prey on the poor and uneducated. And, of course, the average person doesn’t even understand how to steward her finances. She lacks the financial education to make the right decisions.
Brooks highlights a new report from the Institute for American Values called “For a New Thrift: Confronting the Debt Culture”. According to the report’s web site:
Jointly authored by a number of distinguished scholars and leaders from across the political spectrum, “For A New Thrift” powerfully addresses the linked problems of overindebtedness, lack of savings, and growing inequality in the United States…When a society creates democratic institutions to encourage thrift, more people are likely to engage in the positive activities of saving, conservation, and asset building.
I like that this report doesn’t just focus on the financial problems, but also apparently suggests possible solutions. I’d love to see a national campaign encouraging thrift and frugality. I’ve actually signed up at the web site, volunteering to get involved in my community. I’ve never done any sort of volunteer work in my life, but if there was ever anything I felt a passion to assist with, this is it.
The following articles offer supplementary reading on this project:
- The American Interest: A nation in debt: How we killed thrift, enthroned loan sharks, and undermined American prosperity
- The Washington Post: Let’s make it cool to save (Michelle Singletary)
- Houston Chronicle: Time to make outsaving the Joneses a reality
The article from The American Interest is an attempt to summarize the full report. I haven’t had time to read it yet, but I will tonight. And I’m going to order a pile of those Thrift Captain buttons. I love ‘em. If we ever meet, don’t be surprised if I try to foist one of them upon you…