Why is there so much debt? Why do we spend so much? Why don’t we think it’s great to be as frugal as a Depression-era grandparent?
Ronald Wilcox, former Securities Exchange Commission economist and now a professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, thinks of consumers’ excessive debt loads, at its base, as a cultural phenomenon. We, as Americans, are an optimistic bunch. We think tomorrow will be better than today. So we borrow.
Our nation’s economy is strong and has attracted tremendous amount of investment capital. So lenders lend.
And we have developed our credit markets to the point where we can finance anything. So we do. “My wife and I are looking for a golden retriever, “ Wilcox said. “And we were offered a payment plan. You can finance a dog.”
As the author of Whatever Happened to Thrift? Why Americans Don’t Save and What To Do About It, Wilcox says you put all that together and we have a savings crisis. We don’t save, we spend.
He’s one of a group of thinkers who recently have hit on the topic and set their sights on changing our collective direction.
The forces in society that encouraged savings have been eroded, says a report “For a New Thrift; Confronting the Debt Culture,” from a think-tank called The Institute for American Values and signed by 62 scholars. (Wilcox says he would have signed it too, but he didn’t know it was coming out beforehand.) It attacks what it sees as anti-thrift institutions, such as payday lenders, credit card companies after they began targeting risky customers and even lotteries, which especially encourage spending among lower-income Americans.
I don't think these forces can be turned back. I also don’t think anyone’s going to go back to Depression-era ways of spending and saving.
But a little less of living large would be good for all of us.
I like more the idea that thrift is suddenly in style. Frugal is the new favorite way to be. I think a cultural change, rather than a political one, will work.
Have a look at Ron Wilcox's blog at www.usthrift.wordpress.com.
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