With all of the discussion surrounding the current financial crisis, it is surprising that one of the underlying causes is seldom addressed. We are constantly bombarded by the media with grim accounts of America’s various addictions: addiction to foreign oil, addiction to drugs, addiction to our wonderful new technologies that distract us when we drive—to name a few. Why is it that no one wants to discuss one of America’s most destructive addictions: our addiction to credit?
As with any crisis, financial or otherwise, people are quick to place blame and point fingers. “Republicans this; Democrats that.” It is easy for people to point the finger at the fat cats on Wall Street and whatever administration happens to be presiding over the country at the time for [causing] all of their financial woes. Common accusations include questionable accounting practices, lack of oversight etc. While many of these assessments have merit, their overall effect is compounded exponentially by the American culture of living beyond one’s means.
I was fortunate to be raised in a multicultural family where the words credit and debt were essentially treated as expletives. For as long as I can remember, my father (a moto/auto enthusiast) pined for a Ferrari Testarossa, an uber-expensive Italian sports car. As much as he dreamed of owning that car, it did not fit into his finances, so he settled for a small pinup of it over his workshop bench. It was more important that my brother and I attend quality schools, experience the privilege of travel and have money set aside for college. Spending less money than you earn and saving money (even if only a little at a time) was part of his Latin culture.
I recognize that my experience was unique and that not everyone is in that position, but it is never too late to change one’s habits. To be quite honest, I have as little sympathy for the person who acquired a mortgage they didn’t understand, for a home they couldn’t afford, as I do for the wealthy bankers who risked (and lost) it all on complex financial instruments. I submit that if Americans lived within their means as a rule, then many of them would not find themselves in the dire circumstances they are currently experiencing. There is a simple, albeit hard lesson to learn here: Don’t spend money you don’t have, even if someone is willing to lend it to you.
— Christian Magallanes