As consumer debt in America rises to pre-2008 levels, Utahns should avoid unnecessary borrowing and resist the ever-present temptation to over-extend financially.
Consumer confidence is at a 16-year high. This confidence is welcomed news; however, confidence must also come with a measure of fiscal conservatism and an eye toward rainy-day savings. It’s a sad fact that America seems to increasingly depend on unhealthy consumer debt and frivolous consumerism to fuel its economic motor.
Recall that after the 9/11 attacks, then-President Bush encouraged Americans to go out and spend to keep the economy strong. Though surely unintentional, implicit in that message was that spending shouldn’t necessarily be inhibited by whether or not one actually has the means to spend.
Credit cards, in this scenario, seem just as patriotic as cash.
Unfortunately, that’s the same kind of thinking that has provided the philosophical framework for the federal government. President Trump is happy to talk tough about the need to shrink the bureaucracy but all of his proposed spending cuts have been in discretionary spending programs.
In order to get the nation’s debt under control, mandatory spending — i.e. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid — also needs reform. So far, the president has shown no appetite to address these politically popular programs, which constitute nearly two-thirds of all federal spending. Leaving them untouched makes balancing the budget all but impossible.
On both the micro and macro-levels, debt provides an illusion of prosperity and can paper over a number of short-term economic challenges — borrowing, especially in a non-business context, is simply not a sustainable strategy for democratized economic flourishing.
As the national debt grows, so also does the interest on that debt, which constitutes a portion of mandatory federal spending that can’t be cut without America going into default. As interest rates continue to rise, so will the bill to pay the money necessary to service that debt. Higher interest rates also mean higher debt payments with no greater benefit to the taxpayer.
The same principle applies to individual borrowing, especially consumer credit card debt.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that “credit card defaults are ticking up at all three lenders (Citigroup, Wells Fargo and J.P. Morgan Chase) and, though they are still at very low levels relative to history, (they) are expected to rise further.”
That’s not to say there are not appropriate times and uses for borrowing, particularly for college expenses or a modest home. However, both collectively and individually, the nation has all too often gone well beyond what’s appropriate, contributing to devastating and demoralizing booms and busts.
It’s time for America to get serious about kicking its national debt addiction. That will take leadership from the top as well as wise personal choices from individual consumers.