Debt & Complacency

Modern society is run on debt and complacency. To make clear what I mean by these two words, I mean debt in the normal monetary sense and complacency much as it is generally understood as contentment without regard or recognition of any danger. Before going further into what I mean, I want to also make it clear that I’m not just complaining about this – nor am I excluding myself from guilt in this paradigm. I am just as guilty of being complacent and I have certainly contributed to the debt. It is true there are people who are more to blame than others but punishing them won’t change what needs to be done about it, nor reduce the suffering we are in for.

It is no secret that the more advanced, industrialised countries in the world have been living beyond their means for a long time.  Whether you are talking about retirement/pension services, health care, home loans, car loans, credit cards, insurance liabilities, defence spending, education or even grants for arts. Far too much money is being spent and it is not sustainable. It is even possible to calculate what share of the debt newborns are subject to though I am not sure how these studies measure it.

As a personal example, I still have not paid off the debt of my tertiary education. This is partially because I was living overseas and also because repayments are tied to your income and I wasn’t earning enough until recently to be required to make payments. Thinking back to when I first signed myself up for this – I thought nothing of it. Almost everyone I knew was doing the same thing and I assumed it would be paid off. Today, I wish I hadn’t been so foolish and I am conscious that I could have paid off a lot of it while attending university simply by working and saving more. I could have easily been debt free by now but I was careless and complacent.

I could complain (and often do), that I was overcharged, that what I got was not as useful as I was led to expect. All of this is more or less true. The fact that so many jobs are now locked behind gates requiring expensive and lengthy times studying in specific institutions is questionable at best. But in the end, I still have to pay my dues and that is now one of my goals is to do what I should have done a long time ago over the next few years.

My little example makes me a small fry though. Imagine if through no fault of my own, I had an accident that resulted in a serious spinal injury that bound me to expensive health care for the rest of my life.  Something requiring regular support and which would prevent me from doing most jobs. This would all cost significantly more than my little education debt but this would be different. Hearing about people who suffer such disaster makes me much happier to part with a portion of my income to support them. Much happier even than parting with it for utilities and infrastructure. This is what the powers that be want us to think about when speaking of health care.

The reality though is that the reason costs for health care are so high is because of the layers upon layers of administration, legal & insurance compliance, legislation and interests (both innocent and nefarious) contributing to it. Then there is the knowledge of the waste and totally avoidable problems that we have. Obesity, substance abuse, stupidity, hypochondria, sloth and I could go on. All of this costs us more and when it seems like there is little personal cost, the average person can be somewhat forgiven for not doing more to avoid these problems more dutifully.

Then there are pensions, aged care and retirement plans. Back when families were large, the economy was strong, industry existed and life was generally shorter – it seemed nice and fair to give the working man enough to make the last years of his life comfortable. It also could take some of the burden of his family were he to become seriously infirm during these later years. Again, the average person couldn’t have anticipated that families would become smaller, people would live longer, the country would become less industrious and that these savings would be squandered. They also probably couldn’t have foreseen that this bit of state charity would lead to families shirking their duty to the point where the elderly were sent elsewhere for care.

Personal and family debt is now another huge problem. I can’t imagine ever owning a home because I am simply not willing to go into the kind of debt necessary to buy one. I am very much an oddity in this regard though. It is quite normal for people to sign up for car loans, home loans, mobile phone plans and even go into debt for beds, televisions and couches. I am guilty with mobile phone plans but at least in this case I have the ability to buy myself out of this obligation if need be. Now again, this is not something I necessarily begrudge anyone for. It is socially normal, acceptable and you’re unlikely to hear anyone suggest otherwise. But all of these debts must be paid.

While I could keep going on and I don’t believe I’ve even covered the worst, there is enough here for my point. There are layers and layers of debts, obligations, requirements, laws and expectations behind all of this. People are generally unwilling to give up even simple comforts once they have become accustomed to them. Rich or poor, people have come to expect that things can only get better – never worse. All of this simply can not go on but there is nobody to scapegoat, nobody (excepting children), who are wholly innocent and therefore widespread complacency about all of it. People either know and don’t want to or actually don’t know. Perhaps my current situation and my life experience has given me more clarity with this than the average person but it is still quite troubling to contemplate.

What is important though, is no matter what, we are all likely to suffer for this and that suffering is ultimately for our own good. I could complain that I was born into the world like this and that I didn’t make it that way but I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed it. I’m just as guilty as the next. What I, what we need to be is ready to suffer the consequences and the change and ideally learn from these mistakes. How well each one does will be a good test of character.

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