Sunday is my big day for reading. Stepping back to look at the impact of debt on freedom (financial and otherwise), there are two other items worth noting.
First, the serious stuff. David Walker, the chief of U.S. Government Accounting Office, is doing that rarest of things for a Washington, D.C. insider, he’s telling the truth about the Federal debt.
According to this AP story, Walker has hit the road this year with this basic message (emphasis added is mine):
If the United States government conducts business as usual over the next few decades, a national debt that is already $8.5 trillion could reach $46 trillion or more, adjusted for inflation. That’s almost as much as the total net worth of every person in America – Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and those Google guys included.
A hole that big could paralyze the U.S. economy; according to some projections, just the interest payments on a debt that big would be as much as all the taxes the government collects today.
And every year that nothing is done about it, Walker says, the problem grows by $2 trillion to $3 trillion.
Walker isn’t saying anything everybody in Washington doesn’t already know. It’s just that no one wants to do anything about it. It would be too much trouble. It would mean exercising some fiscal discretion. It would mean admitting the government can’t and shouldn’t try to solve every social problem. It would also mean it’s time for the Baby Boomers to grow up and act like adults. And that’s not likely to happen, is it?
Probably not, Michael Bywater writes in today’s U.K. Telegraph. He explains:
The plain fact is that you are being treated like a baby. You, I, all of us are on the receiving end of a sustained campaign to infantilise us: our tastes, our responses, our behaviour, our private thoughts, our decisions, our buying habits, our philosophies, our political sensibilities.
We are told what to think. We are talked down to. We are distracted with colour and movement, patronised, spoon-fed, our responses pre-empted and our autonomy eroded with a fine, rich, heavily funded contempt.
He has advice on how to reclaim your adulthood, including my favourities:
Mistrust anything catchy, whether it’s the Axis of Evil, advertising slogans, or blatant branding (‘New Labour’). Catchiness exists to prevent thought and to disguise motive. Grown-ups can think for themselves
We should not assume that market forces will decide wisely. The market is rigged by manipulation and infantilisation
Autonomy is the primary marker of being grown up. Babies, children and adolescents don’t have any. We don’t want to be in their boat
Denounce relativism at every turn. Shouting ‘not fair’ is childish. Demanding respect without earning it is childish. Don’t fear seriousness. Babies aren’t allowed to be serious
P.S. Okay, not all the Baby Boomer are babies. And not all of them are bankrupt either. Today’s Sunday Telegraph reports that “Personal Debt [is] a Major Worry” for Australians and that “Australians are becoming financially conservative amid rising interest rates and a higher cost of living.”
Other notes from the article, “Research conducted by Newspoll for the credit-advice firm Fox Symes shows almost a quarter of adult Australians believe their financial situation has worsened recently.”
And this, “An overwhelming majority (92%) of those surveyed by Newspoll thought household debt was a significant problem for Australia.”
Is “a new era of consumer conservatism” upon us as CommSec Chief Economist Craig James suggests? We’ll see. While America is headed toward recession, Australia’s GDP growth is healthy. That does not mean, of course, that the personal balance sheets of Australians are healthy. There is plenty of debt to go around.