Delaying the day of reckoning

The Fed knocked half a point off of its discount rate this week, triggering a big stock market rally and causing an awful lot of America to go, “Whew!”

I was not among these people. That cut will help a lot of people who are overextended afford their monthly payments. The problem, I believe, is that it only delays an ever-worsening day of reckoning.

Here’s the problem with debt: At some point, you have to pay it back — or you abandon it, to catastrophic results. The rate cut makes it easier for the debt-addicted to stay afloat or borrow even more money, and it’s high time we stop borrowing so much.

I’ve been one of those people, with a high credit card debt and a big car payment (although I’ve never had the ridiculous mortgage that makes for the perfect debt trifecta). I’ve dumped it, stashed some money in the bank, boosted my 401K payments to the max, learned to deal with my own investments (because, trust me, yer on yer own now when it comes to retirement) and…I increasingly find that saving and investing is punished and taking on debt is encouraged. The government does it, many of my friends do it, businesses do it (a lack of debt makes you a takeover target, as a matter of fact), all the kids do it.

But the recent mortgage crisis was a tiny collapse in that house of cards. In reality, it could have been much worse. Housing prices could have collapsed by 20 percent or more; there would be an abundance of real estate that would have taken a generation to overcome; discretionary spending could have ground to a halt; and we’d be in a full-fledged recession.

But if you have to pay the money back at some point, how do you avoid this scenario by taking on yet still again more debt, which is what the Fed cut encourages us to do? Won’t that make the payback even worse?

I think so. In fact, I’m frightened by it. I would have preferred some pain now as opposed to much more severe pain later. But America doesn’t agree, and I hope I’m wrong — because if I’m not, the government very well may target the money I’m saving as a source of revenue, and punish me for doing the right thing.

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