A couple of weeks ago, commenter River, at Ricochet, put up a post with the above title. There’s no point in linking it, since it’s in the Member Feed section which is available only to paying Ricochet members, but I think it’s important enough to excerpt some of it here.
River quotes Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist, on the hidden costs of indebtedness:
With the U.S. debt now approaching $14.5 trillion, Americans are watching their elected officials debating whether the debt ceiling should be raised to allow the country to borrow even more money. President Obama has warned that if we don’t borrow more money, the federal government may not be able to make payments to Social Security recipients.
Very little has been written about the psychological effects of the American population living under a mountain of debt, but those effects are very substantial. Chief among them is a sense of being disempowered and anxiety-ridden—both individually and collectively—and, therefore, unable to assert our values here at home, let alone abroad.
This is the case because being in debt, and watching that debt grow, without a credible, concrete plan to retire that debt, makes millions of Americans of all ages feel like they are living in the last stages of a bankrupt culture. A free economy is a miracle, and when it is manipulated through fictitious bailouts and stimulus packages and taking of loans that can’t be repaid, the American people sense that the story we have been writing—of individual liberty and free markets and human rights—can’t be real, certainly not for the long haul. It makes them feel as though they are sleepwalking through times that are actually borrowed time.
It is no different than the feeling one would have living in a house which is over-leveraged and might well be repossessed. Until you had dealt with your financial reality and either downsized or took steps to generate more income you’d feel a sense of impending doom. You might well feel low self-esteem. And you’d feel like a fraud. How do look at your children, after all, and keep your head high when they are enjoying the house you know is built on financial fiction that can’t be sustained.
Americans are living in that house. It’s called our country. And, luckily, we can turn this mindset around. I have seen people buoyed in their mood, spirit and sense of destiny when they bite the bullet and resolve to live within their means. Truth—including economic truth—really does heal people, even whole cultures. If the debt ceiling is not raised, or a truly bullet-proof, inviolable plan is fashioned to retire our debt, then we will be restored.
“Over the past two years I have had more patients visiting me with depression and panic disorder stemming from economic problems and unemployment than ever before (in my nearly 20 years of practice).
Commenter Michael Kelley notes: “If you look at the statistics on how rapidly American households have been paying down debt since the collapse of the real estate bubble, you might be led to believe that there are more Americans who “get it” now than there have been in a long time. One should never discount the healthy growth patterns that are fostered and induced by the boom bust cycle. I actually think we’re in a healing stage as a nation and an economy and that people will be shocked at resurgence we’re going to experience over the next few years.”
…to which River responds:
I agree, a lot of people are learning and healing from this. But not the government itself!