Suffering is Always Virtuous When It’s Someone Else’s Suffering

David Brooks, kids:

After an explosion of debt over the past few decades, Americans are now reacting strongly against the debt culture. According to the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll, three-quarters of Americans said they’d be better off if they carried no debt whatsoever. Not long ago, most people saw debt as a useful tool for consumption and enjoyment. Now they see it as a seduction and an obstacle.

By choice or necessity, eight million Americans have stopped using bank-issued credit cards, according to The National Journal. The average credit card balance has fallen 10 percent this year from 2010. Banks, households and businesses are all reducing their debt levels.

And this is proof that America is great again! Because we’re all scared blind that the ground is going to drop out from under us tomorrow, we’re not spending on anything we don’t have to, and that proves we have rededicated ourselves to acting like a Norman Rockwell painting!

No word, in this entire column, about whether David Brooks is spending less. About whether he is rededicating himself to the American value of burying all his wealth in a coffee can in the yard, or squirrelling money in various drawers throughout the house lest putting it all in one place tempt him to spend it on, you know, groceries, or maybe something frivolous like a book. This turning inward, to the great American value of realizing how fucked you are, that’s for the little folks.

Which is SO GROSS. I was saying this last night to my mom in a conversation about something else, that nobody ever talks about their pain being beneficial or necessary or good until that pain is over. Nobody, mid-field amputation, is like, “I’m really glad you’re cutting off my leg without anesthesia because this, right now, is leading me to a deeper understanding of my life and the universe’s plan for me.” Years later, you can talk about how this was just a bump in the road that led you to your spectacular good fortune at present, but while it’s happening that doesn’t mean shit.

Pierce does his usual fantastic job of vivisecting this nonsense:

Anyone who meekly suggested that, maybe, he’d like to put in 20 years at his job and collect a pension at the end of it that he could live on, was dismissed as a whiny relic of a past age, or as a state employee. And, in any case, part of the miracle of Wall Street was devising new and complicated financial instruments by which private pension plans could be pillaged for private profit. If David Brooks was concerned about this prior to 2008, when the people who go to dinner with him and who pay his honoraria nearly blew up the world, he kept devilishly quiet about it.

The generational hating is, as per usual, rage-inducing, because no matter what is going on (Brooks’s lead references the 1960s, the only decade American political columnists remember in any way) it proves that the Young Folk are Finally Listening to Their Elders. When what’s actually happening is that young people, trying to figure out what the fuck to do, looked at the righteous screwing their parents got from the world and said, you know what? Let’s not do that anymore.

14 thoughts on “Suffering is Always Virtuous When It’s Someone Else’s Suffering

  1. Not long ago, most people saw debt as a useful tool for consumption and enjoyment.
    That is such…bullshit. Consumption and enjoyment? More like food, clothing, school supplies, Christmas and/or birthday presents for the kids, car/home repair/maintenance, medical expenses, and so on. The stuff people used to pay money for, before wages stagnated while costs rose.
    And yeah, while this was happening, Bobo never said anything that would upset his corporate overlords. Must have been too busy sampling the salad bar at Applebees.
    Damned tool.

  2. See I thought I was just an underachiever all this time, using my credit for…you know…emergencies. I have been desperately trying to pay off credit for years, but those damned emergencies just keep cropping up…
    I am one of the 99%!!!!

  3. I just got approved for a credit card that I’m going to use to shift my balance off of my Bank of America credit card, with its shiny new “penalty APR” of29.99% that, once you make a late payment or miss one entirely, they will happily put you on andnever take you off of.
    I shit you not, it’s<a href=";"right in the paperwork. And I bet they’re not the only ones.
    I plan on paying off the balance until the 0% APR on balance transfers runs out. Once I’ve actually got money that’s not going to paying off credit card interest, I’ll decide what to do with the new card…

  4. Aw, balls, I screwed up the link HTML in that last post.
    I’m revoking my commenting privileges for the rest of the day.

  5. Of course, I completely agree Brooks is at his usual craptastic level of passive aggressive meaningless.
    I’m not sure, however, I’m following you, A, re the “so gross” paragraph. I like your version better than Brooks but I think a lot of what is happening with people’s is somewhere between virtue and being screwed.

  6. “with its shiny new “penalty APR” of 29.99% that, once you make a late payment or miss one entirely”
    A lot of them would enforce that penalty if you missed “any payment”–not just payments to the card itself. So if you are late with your rent or bounce a check to a grovery store, BOOM! your interest rates suddenly jump up to loan-shark levels. And they don’t have to inform you, either: they just do it.
    Their argument for punishing you for missing a payment to someone else is that you are now a credit risk, so they should charge you higher interest. Of course, it’s possible that the missed payment turns out to be misdelivered mail or an accounting mistake or (in our case) the mortgage company forgetting to pay your home insurance out of escrow, which means you aren’t a credit risk at all, right? The credit card company either never gets that information or doesn’t care, because that rate does not ever go back down. EVER.
    Oh, and remember all those useful tips you learned in Eco 101, about deciding which bills to pay based on the penalties imposed for late or missed payments? Yeah, that doesn’t work anymore, because every credit company gets to know about–and punish you for–every other financial transaction you have.

  7. Dorothy:
    I wouldn’t put it past BofA to screw people in that manner, either. Which is why I’m bugging out of that joint before they can find an excuse.
    I know, right?
    And I’m chiming in to say that I just looked at the paperwork for my new card, and they have the same “penalty APR” bullshit in there, too. Bugger. I guess it’s just more motivation to get that shit paid off ASAP.

  8. That “penalty APR” used to be called “usury” straight out. And Dorothy’s right, rates that high used to be illegal.
    Used to be.
    Apparently a few people are occupying a few spaces right now to point out that this practice, among others, is a Bad Thing that both major parties currently support.

  9. Sweet jesus. 30% interest? The fuckingmob doesn’t go for that.
    I guess this is why I don’t have a credit card.

  10. Jude: I looked at my credit union’s site for credit cards, and they don’t have any reference to a penalty APR at all.
    I’m thinking this is a Too Big To Fail (Or Be Held Accountable) thing.
    Not saying you need to get one, just saying not all banks/credit unions are alike.

  11. Y’all sound like Elizabeth Warren or someone… But hey, like Congress says, who NEEDS the consumer financial protection agency anyway? It’s just bidness…

  12. When I was growing up, my parents were very cautious with their money. They distrusted loans and credit cards. They shopped carefully, avoiding brand names, buying knock offs, and watching every penny. They didn’t do much frivolous shopping. They weren’t alone. Lots of people their age were like that. If you asked them, they’d tell you what it was all about, The Great Depression.
    The old joke was the couple who said, “We survived The Great Depression, and we’ve survived our marriage.”
    It looks like we’re going to see another generation of survivors.

  13. How does the author of the quoted text reconcile themselves with the simple fact that for a kid to go to college now-a-days they have to rack up an astounding amount of debt.
    The logical endpoint is that either the kids will insist on being debt free or not able to justify getting so far in debt. Either way, apply to McDonalds and forget about college. Exactly what made our country great.

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