Quick thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

In a lot of respects, the Occupy Wall Street protests mirror the Tea Party rallies -- disorganized, partisan (but nobody admits it), and not particularly unified on any particular goal. The overarching themes are good ones: the greed and irresponsibility of big banks, and the weakening of the middle class.

But I'm bothered by something. Back when Clinton was President and America was in the midst of a historic economic boom, one of those Dateline-type news shows had a special about debt in America. While the economy was booming, Americans were taking on record debt such that what used to be our 'savings rate' had become our 'negative savings rate'. I was barely old enough to vote and didn't have any credit cards, but I remembered thinking, This is gonna come back to bite us.

It's easy to pin the problems of the economy on wealthy corporations and big banks, many of whom raked in record profits even as the economy tumbled and unemployment soared. And certainly, I don't want to diminished the unequivocal fact that banks engaged in stupid and irresponsible practices that hurt their customers, only to receive a nice padded bailout from Washington.

But the fact is, Americans have been reckless too. Bigtime. Average credit card debt in American households is over $10,000. Personally, I've been through my share of credit card debt, and learned my lesson in the process: I don't buy stuff I can't afford. Crazy, right? Who'd a thunk? As a musician, there's not a day that goes by when I'm not drooling over some gorgeous guitar or amplifier.  Or effects board. Whatever. I have a pretty fat credit line -- far more than I'll ever need -- and it'd be easy to just slap one of those purchases on the card. But I don't. I know that if I tuck money away for a while, that gear will still be there when I can afford it. I don't go out and waste money on expensive drinks at bars and clubs, and I only go out to eat on special occasions. 

And that's not to say I'm Scrooge McDuck. If you want to be a personal trainer/guitar teacher, it had better be because you love what you do, not because it's going to net you that Mercedes coup. But I'm afloat, and don't take on more than I can handle. 

Imagine if each of those American households had that $10k in savings! We'd still have issues with income disparity than make it harder for working-class Americans to save, and we'd still have irresponsible banks and corporations. But we'd at least have our own houses in order. 


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