Monday, September 21, 2009

Borrowing and the Economy

Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 75–77

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.
Proverbs 22:7

I've been thinking about earning money, spending money, and borrowing money for several months now. Not the actual act of doing those things (which I do all the time), but the fact that while it is comparatively difficult to earn money, borrowing and spending it take a mere few mouse clicks. In fact, I can spend literally thousands of dollars, either borrowing it off a credit card or (if I have enough) pulling it directly from my bank account at places like Amazon, eBay, or any one of thousands of online vendors. Even if I have to go to a retail location, a swipe and several keystrokes get me my product and deprive me of a certain number of hard-earned dollars. Heck, even churches can get into the act, with both online donations and even giving kiosks right in the church building!

What is interesting to me is that our entire economy is dependent on such instant gratification and the ability to transfer money in seconds. The "just in time" method of inventory control has now morphed into the "get it now" method of consumerism. Recall that what former President Bush did shortly after September 11, 2001 was not to call us as a nation mobilize for war, but to call us as a nation to shop, shop, shop and otherwise go on with our lives as if nothing had happened. When that adrenalin-jacked up economy finally collapsed late last year, the collapse was huge, in part, because people could instantly move money away from investments that people were newly unsure of and partly because the ability to borrow money was slowed to a crawl.

What's the solution? Well, part of it is what we are seeing now--increasing savings and decreasing spending. Increasing savings frees us from the dependence on borrowing to sustain our chosen lifestyle, both forcing us to live within our means and also helping us to serve God rather than being a "servant to the lender." This is obviously easier said than done--as I've already noted, it is very much easier to spend money than it is to either earn it or save it. So, perhaps as we enter what we in the church euphemistically refer to as "stewardship season" it would be well to reflect not only on what our spending says about our priorities, but exactly how we go about doing that spending says. Do we save for what we need and consider ourselves rich (which, in comparison to the rest of the world, is what we are) or do we constantly long for what we don't have and willingly subjugate ourselves to the Visa or MasterCard gods? Something to think about, especially before the holidays...

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