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If you’ve lived very long as an adult, you’ve probably incurred some personal debt, but how much debt, and is it good or bad debt? 

Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #43 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.

Debt is now commonplace in contemporary postmodern culture. Nearly everyone is in some way engaged in some form of debt.

There was a time, though, before the 1960s, when debt, especially living beyond ones means, was considered morally questionable or at least unwise. Politicians worked to balance budgets. Individuals and families labored to avoid bad debt and get out of debt. 

Now, it seems, American culture not only tolerates but embraces debt. We think we are entitled to live the good life, i.e., what we can’t afford as presented to us by online influencers, the beautiful people, and celebrities. We want to be like them. We want affluence and the materialistic stuff that goes with it. So, charge it.

Personal credit cards are maxed out. In 2022, there are 537 million credit card accounts in the US, up 6% or 32 million, since 2021. Just before the pandemic in 2020, total credit card debt reached $893 billion, but it climbed to $71 billion in 2021. Meanwhile, average credit card interest rates are a usurious 16.59%.

Eighty percent of Americans have consumer debt, amounting to $14.6 trillion in personal debt. In 2021, the average American has $90,460 in debt according to CNBC.

Conservative financial guru David Ramsey is very opposed to the idea of owing money to a lender in any shape or form. Not only does he think consumers should ditch credit cards and pay for purchases in cash, he believes it's ideal to purchase a car outright rather than secure an auto loan. Ramsey recently tweeted that the only good debt is debt that is PAID OFF. 

Ramsey is strict when it comes to debt. He’s not necessarily wrong, just difficult for some to reach this level, but if they can, more power to them. I know at least three families who say Ramsey’s counsel helped them early in their marriages and is responsible for their financial stability now.

Most financial advisors, though, consider mortgages good debt because they feature reasonable interest rates, and because they mean one owns an asset, equity. Auto loans might be considered good debt. While cars don't tend to appreciate, they do make it possible for people to drive to work and earn a living.

That’s a look at the micro level – personal debt. Now let’s look at the macro level – national debt.

As of January 2022, the US National Debt stands at $30 trillion plus for the first time ever. If you want to scare yourself, go to usdebtclock.org and look at the US National Debt Clock. The digital display moves faster than you can count the dollars aloud. On the same page, the US Gross Domestic Product logs at $24,813T plus and climbing rapidly. The US total debt is over $92,229T, and it too was increasing before my eyes faster than I could count or comprehend.  

“Debt held by the public as a share of GDP peaked just after World War II (113% of GDP in 1945) but then fell over the following 35 years. In recent decades, aging demographics and rising healthcare costs have led to concern about the long-term sustainability of the federal government's fiscal policies… 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government spent trillions in virus aid and economic relief…At the end of 2020, debt held by the public was approximately 99.3% of GDP, and approximately 37% of this public debt was owned by foreigners.” It’s called external debt. The United States has the largest external debt in the world.

Neither Democrats or Republicans can claim to be great budget managers who keep the national debt at some manageable level.

  • $10.6 trillion when Barack Obama took over on January 20, 2009.
  • $19.9 trillion when Trump took over on January 20, 2017.
  • $ 27.8 trillion when Biden took over on January 20, 2021.

As a culture, the American people have become profligate. That’s p-r-o-f-l-i-g-a-t-e. Profligate. It means “given to or characterized by licentiousness or dissipation, morally wrong,” or “given to or characterized by reckless waste; wildly extravagant” or “spending money or using something in a way that wastes it and is not wise.”

Postmodern Americans seem to want their cake and eat it too. They want, regardless of the cost to themselves, their nation’s wellbeing, or their progeny.

But what we do with money, individually and as a society, is a profound moral issue. Jesus made it clear that whatever our station, since God owns everything, we are merely stewards. Thus, we are accountable to God for how we manage our assets.

Scripture never says debt is a sinbut it does strongly state that debt is dangerous: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. (Prov. 22:7).

Remember that 37% of US debt that is currently held by foreign interests? It’s not a comforting thought.

In a sermon entitled, “The Use of Money,” delivered in 1789, great early American preacher John Wesley said, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” It’s difficult to do this if we go into irresponsible levels of debt.

Scripture also states that one is responsible for one’s debts: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Rom. 13:8). “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously” (Ps 37:21).

Scripture indicates we are each blessed by God with time, talent, and treasure, and we are accountable to him for the stewardship of our livelihood that makes it possible for us to care for our families. The Bible is, after all, the source of the famed Protestant Work Ethic that helped propel the development of Western Civilization.

Recently, President Biden announced an extensive student loan “forgiveness” program. The idea is that somehow letting selected students out of their financial obligations would be a good thing for them. 

But unless you are the one who extended the funds and hold the I.O.U., forgiving debt does not make it go away. In the case of the student loan “forgiveness,” it simply transfers the debt to the American taxpayer, including those who scrimped and sacrificed to pay off their own loans. The student loan “forgiveness,” therefore, can only be seen for what it is, a ploy to buy votes, a grossly inequitable governmental action, and a disincentive to pay off loans for those who go into debt in the future.

Student loans are generally among the lowest interest rates. When I was in graduate school in 1978-1982, we took out two loans because I wanted to march right through the program and get the degrees, rather than stop out for a time to save for the next semester. This worked for us, but for the next ten years we paid $68 per month to take care of our obligations. Because student loan rates are typically lower, than for example financing a car, whenever we had funds to add to our payments, we put this into the car, not the student loan. Consequently, to pay it off took the full ten years. I remember when my wife and I celebrated the final payment.

When we load up on debt, personally or nationally, we mortgage our children’s and our grandchildren’s futures. This is immoral.

Knowingly incurring debt beyond our means, personal or national, is a matter of want more than need. It allows our desires to rule our hearts and our actions, and somehow, we convince ourselves we will never have to pay the piper.

But the believer who lives “Christianly” remembers scripture: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Heb 13:5).

 

Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com. 

And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2022   

*This podcast blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact me or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com/, or connect with me at www.linkedin.com/in/rexmrogers.  

The toll is now 38.6 M Americans unemployed due not to Covid-19 as claimed by most media coverage but due to state governors’ executive order shutdowns. Meanwhile, not one governor is out of a paycheck. 

Peggy Noonan noted, “On Tuesday Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf said in a press briefing that those pushing against the shutdown are cowards. Local officials who ‘cave in to this coronavirus’ will pay a price in state funding. ‘These folks are choosing to desert in the face of the enemy. In the middle of a war.’ He said he’ll pull state certificates such as liquor licenses for any businesses that open.  Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer called anti-lockdown demonstrations ‘racist and misogynistic.’ She called the entire movement ‘political.’

Maybe some protestors fit Governor Whitmer's description, but not most and this is not the message most protestors were trying to convey. They were saying they are worried and facing very real financial catastrophe. Meanwhile, she plays the victim, changes the goalpost of what she says she’s trying to accomplish via her executive orders, and continues to hold tight to the reins. While people have no job, no paycheck as a direct offshoot of her shutdown polices, she still has a job and collects her check.

Protestors are also portrayed as anti-American rabble: “But this is what they’re getting in return: ‘Coronavirus protesters turn the American flag into a symbol of selfishness.’ In other words: Fight for freedom — fight for a return to saner times — fight for the Constitution, for self-sufficiency, for any of the rights that have been long-cherished, long-held in this country as God-given — and that’s ‘selfish.’”

Jobs are purportedly the concern of both the Left and the Right, but state governors have willingly deep-sixed consideration of the ripple effects of their shutdown polices in the name of public health. Now that so many governors have taken such extreme positions it’s making it harder for any of them to backtrack because, in their minds, it makes it look like they are backing down, or worse, that they were wrong all along. 

Without yielding to cynicism, it seems likely the shutdowns would not have lasted as long as they have and would not yet be in place if governors had also lost their jobs and paychecks. 

History is going to judge these statewide lockdowns harshly.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2020    

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact me or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com/, or connect with me at www.linkedin.com/in/rexmrogers.    

The impact of statewide stay-at-home orders, or lockdown, in the US has thus far resulted in 36.5 million people losing their jobs

“The pandemic shutdown has piled on the economic agony, with 52% of lower-income adults saying they or someone in their household have lost a job or taken a pay cut during the outbreak, according to the Pew Research Center."

About 1 in 5 small businesses may not make it into a post-pandemic market. While some economists suggest nearly half of all small businesses will close permanently by the end of this year due to the coronavirus crisis response.

It’s a Humpty Dumpty economy if there ever was one.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.”

So here we are now, trying to phase in reopening but facing a Humpty Dumpty economy that “had a great fall, i.e., was broken by over-zealous politicians, particularly state governors and big city mayors in their desire to make people safe by quarantining healthy people.

I’ve noted before, we’re suffering from inverted logic. To date about 1.6 million C-19 cases have been recorded in the US, with about 90,000 deaths. Meanwhile, 36.5 million have lost jobs since February—some economists saying less than half of these jobs won’t come back—which will result in greater personal and societal suffering. Many unemployed haven’t seen a nickel of unemployment benefits or federal relief funds. And this says nothing about delayed “non-essential” medical care. 

So, with an understandable, maybe even compassionate, and give some the benefit of the doubt and say humane, desire to protect people from a pandemic, politicians acted with the advice of public health and medical “experts.” Problem is, many of them acted in unprecedented overreach, walked over civil liberties as if these historic ideals, principles, and legal guarantees didn’t really matter, strong-armed citizens and churches, and much more of considerable concern

Meanwhile, there was another way: South Dakota never enacted a lockdown. The state recorded four cases per 100,000 people, lowest in the nation and the lowest job losses in the nation. And South Dakota citizens gave Gov. Kristi Noem a well-deserved parade. She took media abuse but stuck to her well-articulated position. She is a too rare, independent thinking politician, one I hope we hear more from in the future.

Jobs provide not only income but focus and purpose. Long-term unemployment is a crisis in itself. But in a Humpty Dumpty economy people suffer from more than loss of income. Some face more domestic abuse at home and a host of other social pathologies increase, including suicide

Stay-at-home, shelter-in-place, lockdown policies, though possibly helpful in slowing the spread of C-19 or flattening the curve in some areas—the jury is really out on whether this is scientifically demonstrable—has nevertheless created a host of ripple-effect-problems of their own.

Any chance of successfully putting our Humpty Dumpty economy back together is certainly dependent upon reopening as quickly as possible. 

State governors need to get people back to work, meaning rescind stay-at-home orders ASAP. 

The American people can rise to the occasion of this layered crisis…if they are given the opportunity to do so. 

For governors to insist upon extending lockdowns into June is to flaunt their legally suspect authority and to tempt increasingly angry, desperate individuals to go “too far” in protests that can create contexts for violence. 

With the advent of warmer weather in the North people are going to reach the end of their rope and allow frustration to boil over, or they are simply going to ignore “orders” and thus be in a position of civil disobedience whether or not they chose to do so. Some county sheriffs and local police chiefs are already defying governors, mayors or councils, saying they will not enforce stay-at-home orders. This may be understandable in terms of a point of view, but it is a development fraught with potential disorder and violence.

Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again but for this to happen, we need pandemic governors to help not hinder us.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2020    

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact me or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com/, or connect with me at www.linkedin.com/in/rexmrogers.    

Check this out. I think he's got it right.

 

During the Cold War in the 50s and 60s, we thought the end of the world might someday come from what we then called “thermo-nuclear war.”

I remember the same concerns when I was in graduate school during the late 70s, early 80s, studying for advanced degrees in political science. We talked about nuclear arms, MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction, ICBMs, and a few other scenarios involving “nukes.” It almost seems quaint now.

Whether you drew end of the world scenarios from international geo-politics, vast armies, even space age weaponry like “Star Wars,” or whether you drew them from biblical prophecy, most of us didn’t think about debt.

Yet national debt, deficit spending, and unbalanced budgets are now the greatest threats to future wellbeing in the West.

The United States is now $15 Trillion in debt. For the first time, our national debt equals about 100% of our annual GDP. Add to this the ill advised Bush Administration unfunded increases in Medicare prescription programs (when unfunded wars are included, Bush doubled national debt in less than five years) and the 2008 Obama Administration bailouts.

And it’s not just us. European countries are in a debt mess, “led” by Greece, and followed by Portugal, Spain, and more. Greece’s debt (until European Union nations and banks decided to “forgive” some of it) stands at 150% of its struggling GDP. Still, even with this, Greece is scheduling a referendum this week to determine whether Greeks will accept required “austerity” measures. Honestly, who do Greeks think should pay for their lifestyle choices?

Too many European countries still want a welfare state they can’t afford. They want to retire early, like age 57 in Greece or Italy. They want no increases in generous tuition. They want someone else to foot the bill. The U.S. isn’t far behind. It’s all quite scary.

Yet we’re not beyond fixing the problem. The American people's ingenuity and the potential strength of this economy remain phenomenal. But do we as a people, as a culture, do we have the political will and resolve to fix the problem? As they say, it’s not rocket science. It’s just common sense financial wisdom based on centuries of verifiable experience.

More, do we have the political leadership on either side of the aisle, do we have the moral strength to lead, tell the truth, bite the bullet, and stick to it? At the moment, I can’t see it, and that’s scarier still.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Unless Congress acts to raise the debt ceiling by August 2, the U.S. could default on its bills for the first time in history. The debt ceiling is an oddly named term meaning the amount the US can borrow to pay its bills.

This is not a conspiracy theory. It’s not doom and gloom and howl at the moon film noir. It’s not Dooms Day. This isn’t “Repent, For the End Is Near,” though a case might be made for this point of view. This is real economics, real politics, and real morality all in one.

The United States holds a $14.4 Trillion debt, which climbs by the moment. In fact, if I wrote the number to the last dollar it would be out of date before I finished this paragraph, let alone posted text or checked my website tomorrow morning for comments. It increases, meaning deepens, at mind-boggling speed.

The U.S. Treasury borrows $4 Billion, that’s with a B, per day to pay American debts. This in a country with the world’s largest economy yielding an annual GDP of $14.7 Trillion (2010). Yet we’re also enduring a 9.1% unemployment rate.

Since 1981, the national debt has gone from $1 Trillion to $14.4 Trillion, most under Republican Presidents. The debt ceiling has been raised 78 times in the past fifty years, 10 times since 2001. Almost one-half of American public debt is held by China and Japan. The US pays $225 Billion per year in interest.

To say that the US economy, perhaps even culture or country, is in trouble understates the problem. There’s nothing about America’s economics or its political culture that suggests we cannot experience the violence recently witnessed in Greece in response to so-called “austerity measures” and resulting lower standards of living—all traceable to Greece’s own profligate spending, economic denial, live for today culture.

The issue at hand is not simply the need for Congress to act to raise the debt ceiling by August 2 so the country will not default on its bill payments. That comes first, but the real issue is whether congressional leaders and the President can work together, which is to say can Republicans and Democrats work together, to identify the hard decisions and solutions to bring the country’s budget into line, reduce the national debt, and reinvest in our children’s future. To date no political party has risen to the task.

The Republicans do poorly or do irrationally. The Democrats do nothing at all. President Barack Obama’s record on the budget deficit and national debt is simply to add to both—through extending the Bush tax cuts, tiptoeing around Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, fighting not two, as Bush did, but three foreign wars, and offering Stimulus bailouts that put the country ever more deeply in arrears—all while talking about “bumps” in the road.

Neither party is impressive, nor are its leaders. So we keep going deeper in debt. Meanwhile, we put up with the likes of Rep. Anthony Weiner.

Don’t let partisan pundits fool you. Neither side of the aisle is in league with the Devil. Neither party has God on its side. Don’t believe politicians or pundits who opine there is no solution.

Economics may be the dismal science, but it’s not rocket science. There are solutions to the national debt crisis.

The question remains: do we have leaders with enough creativity and courage to identify solutions, help the American public understand them, and resolve to see them through to enactment and outcome? Canada did in the 1990s. But at the moment, I have my doubts we have leaders who can rise to the level of statesmanship required.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.