Posted by TOM BEVAN
The graphic to the right, from a column on the debt that is crushing the middle class in today's Detroit Free-Press, pretty much says it all.
Over the past few weeks as the economic crisis has come into hideous focus, we've spent a lot of time blaming Wall Street executives and a lot of time blaming Congress, both deservedly so.
One area we haven't spent enough time focusing on is the millions of Americans who helped get us into this mess by taking on more debt than they could afford. There are many sad and tragic stories among this group, of course, and while we don't want to dismiss or denigrate them, it's fair to point out they represent only a small portion of those who've gotten into trouble by overextending themselves financially.
More important still is to recognize the millions upon millions of Americans who've managed their finances prudently, lived within their means, and continued to make payments on time even as they are saddled with the burden of bailing out those who did not.
Credit card companies and other businesses will always be there to ply us with sweet nothings about low interest loans and the like. Too often over the last twenty years, however, it seems more and more Americans have fallen victim to that siren song and rejected the truism which our fathers, grandfathers, and even Founding Fathers lived by: there's no such thing as a free lunch.
At its core, then, this is a story about individual freedom and individual choices. Nobody put a gun to the head of the 28 year-old University of Michigan graduate in the Detroit Free-Press story and forced him to buy a house with a $150,000 mortgage - any more than someone forced his fiancee to ring up $15,000 in credit card debt.
The most nauseating part of this debacle is that the United States government - which long ago perfected the habit of living beyond its means - was an active participant in helping some Americans shed the inhibition of fiscal prudence and embrace the notion we can afford it all - even when we know we can't.
The true irony, of course, is that because some Americans exercised their individual freedoms irresponsibly in the last decade we've now all become less free, assuming you measure such things by the number of additional taxpayer dollars committed to Washington's coffers ($700+ billion) and by unprecedented expansion of the U.S. government into what was previously considered the "private sector."