Monday, November 29, 2010

The Only Certainties are Debt and Taxes

The average credit card debt in the USA is over $15,000. Worth thinking about: what amounts to a 15-25% tax on consumer spending to banks, voluntarily agreed to, in service of buying mostly crap, which, while entirely unnecessary to a good life, keeps our economy and the world's going, while consuming resources desperately needed elsewhere and enriching, even sustaining, huge financial institutions. Meanwhile, taxes in far lower amounts are bitterly opposed.

The magic of the marketplace: an endless cornucopia, a social good without parallel. We have a kid in college. Turns out that, since the age of majority is 18, they can acquire credit cards, being able to enter into contracts. They're marketed relentlessly. It's common for the kids to have multiple cards, carrying thousands in balance, oft, in effect, guaranteed by their parents. The legislation drafting group I worked with considered the college credit problem. We dealt with actual state legislators who became our clients. The law students researched the matter and came up with policy recommendations, oft constrained by client prejudices in the realm of the politically possible. In this case, the remedy wound up being not limits on credit marketing and acquisition, but better education at middle school and high school levels directed at personal finance. Nothing wrong with that, but the student's paper overwhelmingly documented the case for restriction--less marketing in colleges, perhaps restricting those under 21 to debit cards, or, unless employed, a single card with a $500 limit. A non-starter.

In our school district, you don't give 'em lunch money anymore. They have something called 'Meal Magic'. They have numbered accounts, filled as needed by parental funding over the Internet, refilled as needed. Never too early to teach kids the right habits...

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