Tag Archives: Consumer Debt

Those who complain about corporate greed may be greedy themselves

From the moderately leftist National Post.

Excerpt:

But what about that 99%? What responsibility do they bear for the situation the world finds itself in? The answer is: plenty. Greed doesn’t just live on Wall Street: it finds a home on Main Street too. And when people think it’s perfectly OK to take out mortgages they can’t afford, or rack up credit card debt to buy flat screen TVs, clothes and appliances, or draw on their home’s equity to finance cars and vacations, well, as they say, you reap what you sow.

[…]But you only have to crack open the business pages, or watch a reality TV show like Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “Princesses” (about heavily indebted young women) to start questioning the moral purity of the 99%. Many of these people are the authors of their own misery: they consider credit to be cheap, if not free, money. The result is that even here in Canada, the ratio of household debt to personal income has hit a whopping 150%, up 78% in real terms in the past twenty years.

I have no pity for those heavily indebted people, in part because I was once one of them. My love affair with credit started in university. While the limit on that first card was low – $1500 – it allowed a student with a part-time job to buy things she couldn’t otherwise afford (and mostly didn’t need). After getting married, I kept spending, even cashing in my meagre RRSP to help finance the wedding. Post-divorce, I racked up consumer debt, over $15,000 at its peak, at which point I took a harsh look at myself and said: enough. At the time, I was selling my condo: I took the proceeds, paid off the debt, invested the balance, and vowed to both save and pay monthly bills in full, promises I have kept ever since.

Luckily, I got religion well before the meltdown of 2008. But many people didn’t. And this makes them responsible not only for their own problems, but those of their neighbours.

Sure, it’s easy to blame the Wall Street CEOs for bundling rotten mortgages and contriving arcane debt instruments that weren’t worth the paper they were written on. But someone took out those mortgages. Millions of people, actually, who bought more house than they could afford. Did someone hold a gun to their head? No. They were just as greedy as the 1%, only on a smaller scale.

Governments are also just as guilty. In the U.S., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac granted mortgages to people deemed disadvantaged – minorities, the poor – in the hopes of increasing home ownership. This spurred the private sector to compete and fuelled the infamous subprime mortgage market.

The Canadians have special tax-free savings accounts that encourage them to save money instead of spending it. That’s something that we should do – provide people with tax-free savings accounts. Give people the incentive to save their money instead of spending it.