My husband and I were watching TV a couple of nights ago and all of a sudden this commercial came on and my husband sat up straight in his chair:
What? A commercial for NOT buying stuff? How subversive is that?
I thought it was a great idea, sandwiched, as it was, between all those commercials telling us that that we really need that car, or those clothes, or that TV, ipod or phone. We need them, of course, because then we'll be smarter, more popular, better-looking: you name it. And of course it helps the economy: it's patriotic to buy stuff. So I love this commercial, and the website that goes along with it, too.
But as I got to thinking, I worried, too. This is only one side of the equation: the "personal responsiblity" side. It's great to instill better personal habits, especially subversive ones. But there is another side to the spending and personal debt crisis. There are predatory lenders, and there are bankruptcy laws that, while purporting to discourage cheaters, often end up benefitting the rich.
Don't get me wrong: personal responsibility is great. I am all for personal responsibility. Tear up the million credit card applications you get every week. Just say no to the telephone offers for whatever-it-is-they-are-selling. And don't worry about whether that salesman will make his commission! It's his job to try to sell you the TV. It's your job to figure out whether you can afford it. (Can you tell my dad was in sales?)
But there's also such a thing as justice. And some people use the word "personal responsibility" as if to imply that "if you are in financial trouble or are poor, it's your own fault, and I don't have to feel sorry for you."
Ahem. Will everyone who has never made a mistake please raise their hand? I thought so.
I'm a both/and sort of girl. I believe in personal responsibility AND justice, trying hard AND creating a more level playing field. It's not a matter of "feeling sorry for" people who are in trouble; it's being angry about a system where the rules are skewed against the very people who need help the most.
A few years ago a friend of mine was trying to buy her first house. She had had some financial difficulties in the past, and the mortgage lender she went to both tried to give her an interest rate which was about twice the current rate AND told her to lie about her income in order to get a bigger loan. She told my friend that she wouldn't get the house unless she lied. Luckily, at the last minute my friend decided she couldn't lie.
So: feed the pig. Yes, of course. But that's not enough. Change the system, too.