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Is Personal Responsibility Dead?

Written by Matt Jabs - 83 Comments

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While attending a recent Homeowners Association meeting, my wife and I were overwhelmed by the attitude of a majority of our neighbors. With few exceptions, they wanted everything done for them and thought all they had to do was sit around and complain loudly enough to make it happen.

After about 15 minutes of complaints and finger pointing, I chimed in on a specific issue with, “What if each of us just committed to doing our part to help make things better for everyone?” The crowd fell silent for a good five seconds (which felt like an eternity in a room full of 50 people) before everyone astoundingly agreed.

I don’t think that my neighbors were incapable of thinking up such a simple solution on their own. Rather, I think this is an illustration of the depth of our cultural dependence and reliance on others for seemingly everything in life.

“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.”

-Joan Didion

Let’s consider the notion of personal responsibility as a whole, with a heavy focus on financial accountability at the individual level. After all, by developing an understanding of things that are going on at a personal level, we’re sure to gain insight into what’s happening at higher levels.

The root of the problem

“No alibi will save you from accepting the responsibility.”

-Napolean Hill

Unless you’ve been lost at sea for the better part of seven years, you’re likely aware of the economic problems that have pushed us “against the financial ropes,” both individually and as a nation. As ridiculous as it sounds, these problems stem from Ricki Lake and Richard Simmons as much as they stem from Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush.

No, we’re not in this predicament because we haven’t been “Sweatin’ to the Oldies.” Nor are we here solely due to 9/11, Republicans, Democrats, or other bureaucrats. We’re here because, on a whole, we’ve become a nation that rebels against virtue and character, and chooses instead to value the emptiness of fame and fortune.

Unfortunately, relying on fame and/or fortune for happiness is grounds for disaster — just ask anyone who has ever been rich or famous!

Who can we blame?

“Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility.”

-Albert Schweitzer

In our culture, we seem to have an unquenchable need to blame someone for everything, and therein lies the problem… Personal responsibility is the polar opposite of pointing the finger of blame. Who is responsible for the fact that you have a negative net worth? The credit card companies? No. While I believe their practices to be a crime, you are the one who signed up for the offer to get a free t-shirt and a license to spend money you didn’t have!

Granted, in this day and age of rampant corporate bailouts, our leadership continues to set a terrible example of fiscal responsibility for its citizens. Their utter non-chalance when it comes to their use of presumptuous money to fund their wayward behavior. While this is glaringly obvious, I propose that we need to consider things at a more granular level.

What if our individual track records over the course of the last year were made public for all to see? How would we fare? Most of us would have a few skeletons that would quickly quiet our brash criticism toward others. The point here is simple: before we can expect others to act in a certain way, we need to be sure that we’re behaving appropriately ourselves.

Don’t like how the government is spending money they don’t have? When is the last time you made a credit card purchase with money you didn’t have? Angry with how your employer is failing to budget enough money for personal raises? How would your family budget hold up under similar scrutiny? Moreover, if you weren’t living paycheck to paycheck, you wouldn’t be so dependent on your employer, and might be more thankful that you still have a job.

Obviously, I’m painting with broad brushstrokes here. Not everyone in our society lives beyond their means, or mismanages their money. On the whole, however, these things ring true.

So what’s the answer?

“Accept responsibility for your life. Know that it is you who will get you where you want to go, no one else.”

-Les Brown

Yes, our political leaders have shown an immense amount of irresponsibility have fallen victim to fashionable corruption. This does not, however, give us the right to follow their lead, complain about their inadequacy, or wait for them to fix our situation. What it does give us is an ever-increasing need to take responsibility for our actions!

Here’s a list of suggestions to help us regain personal financial responsibility:

  • Accept that you cannot blame others for your position in life. Pointing fingers might feel like the easy way out, but it doesn’t do anyone any good. Instead, take a good look at your own financial state, accept full responsibility for it, and work out your own plan to change it for the better.
  • Don’t expect anyone to change anything for you. Don’t wait for handouts. Instead, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and work harder than ever to fulfill your own goals.
  • Decide that your past will no longer dictate your future. Commit to putting your old financial habits behind you. Wipe the slate clean and give yourself a fresh start.
  • Consider your own actions before you attack the actions of others. Make sure you have your own financial house in order before you start tearing down others who have an obvious problem. On the contrary, if you see they need help, find out if there is anything you can do the assist!
  • Don’t file bankruptcy. This may seem impossible, and I’ll probably catch a lot of flak for writing this, but bankruptcy goes against everything I have mentioned previously. It is the ultimate cop out — the complete opposite of personal responsibility.

Concluding thoughts

“No one will improve your lot if you do not yourself.”

-Bertolt Brecht

All of the above may sound simple and obvious to you. If it does, that’s great — I’m obviously not talking to you. In the end, I thought these ideas deserved mentioning, and that they might be just the sort of thing that some — like my neighbors in the condo association meeting — needed to hear.

Published on May 14th, 2009 - 83 Comments
Filed under: Miscellany

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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Comments (scroll down to add your own):

  1. Great post and well thought out.

    I can’t say for the US, but here in the UK we have become so dependent on the state that some people won’t lift a finger to help themselves and expect the government or local council to do it for them. It is just a situation we have got in to bit by bit. Our personal responsibility has diminished over the past 10 years.

    As for financial aspects, you are right on. To make things change we do need to get our house in order before we can start on anyone. But itI understand it is difficult when you are bombarded by ‘celebs’ with all the latest gadgets and super-cool lifestyle. And as a backdrop to this the government pour billions in to propping up the financial sector that have made such a mess of things in the first place.

    But I think things are changing for the better now. More and more people are starting to think like you state in your post. They are looking more at what they spend and what they can do without and are starting to control their financial lives.

    Sorry for the long comment, but you have struck a few chords there.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 7:29 am
  2. It’s funny you should mention bankruptcy, I was just reading a book last night that touched on the subject. The author says bankruptcy law exists to help businesses take risks. It was not originally intended for individuals. Now, 98% of all bankruptcies are for people, and not business. You’re right, it is the ultimate cop-out.

    Perhaps the recession will make up for this in some way, maybe a new generation of personal responsibility, but it is our human nature to dump as much as possible on others so I know we’ll get right back to here soon enough.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 7:35 am
  3. Well said Nickle. My wife and I have been thinking the same thing the last year or two. Everyone seems to be waiting for thier bailout.

    Before my current job, I was working on strictly commission. Then the economy turned and my pay went with it. I took on a second job to make ends meet. Eventually, I decided to leave that job and find one that paid salary. My financial situation took a beating in the process, but my wife and I have a plan to get through it. How many people who now say that cannot afford their houses, cut expenses or took on second jobs.

    I think as a society, the sooner we can get back to people helping themselves, the better.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 7:50 am
  4. I went to a homeowners association once. Once. The meeting made me lose all faith in humanity for about a week. I watched as previously close neighbors called each other names over a tree house one built for all of their kids to play in. (The treehoue was even sided to look like the house.)

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 8:24 am
  5. Great post. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately due to the recent legislation concerning credit card reform.

    I had a credit card mess going on a couple of years ago that I eventually dug myself out of. My initial reaction was to be pissed off at them – I wanted to blame them for the mess I was in. It was easier to blame them for “unfair practices” than it was to blame myself for stupidity. As much as I dislike what they do and the way they operate, I know that all they really did was hand me the shovel – I dug the hole all by myself.

    I don’t know how I feel about the governments involvement now… I do feel that industry needs some reform but the real reform needs to be with us – as a society. The way we have been viewing credit and personal finance management for last two decades is all wrong. The reforms will only address a symptom of the actual underlying issue. Our intelligence, rather than the government, should be what protects us from credit card abuse. There will never be enough laws, reforms, or regulations in the world that can protect someone from ignorance.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 9:24 am
  6. Fantastic post and very appropriate for the times that we live in. We do our best to instill this type of thinking in our soon to graduate high schooler. I have tried to let him learn that there are consequences for every action and they are your responsibility.

    Of course, doing this has made me look inward at some of my failings along these lines. The vast majority of the calamities that I have experienced were of my own making. I have lived and learned and hope that he will gain knowledge from my mistakes.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 9:33 am
  7. Man oh man, this sums up everything I feel about America on a daily basis. As a whole, this country is lame and lazy. I live on the gulfcoast and especially see this at hurricane time after one hits. The consensus is that the government should be giving more money out: “How can I fix my roof with only $600?” and so on. My only question to any of these people is why does the government have to protect YOUR house? Why do you not have more insurance to cover the damage? It makes me sick to be honest, the gross amount of finger-pointing and dependence on anyone but yourself.

    I couldn’t have said it better than you have. It’s time to start looking inward and make changes.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 9:47 am
  8. @ MikeS – This is from regular guest author Matt Jabs, although Nickel is awesome too. 😉

    I really connected with this message. For a long time I’ve viewed accepting personal responsibility as the first step in turning around your financial life. I know this was absolutely the case for my personal situation.

    More and more, though, I realize that this goes for much more than just finance. Personal responsibility is really the first step in turning around ANYTHING we want to do in our lives.

    In my opinion, first admitting that there is a problem and that we’ve fallen short is key. But then you also have to realize that you have all the tools & access to information you need to be the solution. Altogether, both these parts reflect taking personal responsibility to me.

    Thanks for another great contribution to FCN, Matt.

    Nickel you should be a talent scout! Whatever you both are doing it’s working. I’m loving the site these last view weeks even more than usual! Keep up the great work.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 9:59 am
  9. This is a load of crap.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 10:41 am
  10. The root-of-the-problem is the American public {government} school system… which directly indoctrinates 90%+ of the population against personal responsibility — and for reliance on the “Nanny-State” & government “Officials/Authorities” … for every human problem from cradle-to-grave.

    “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted”

    — Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

    School truancy laws directly violate every state constitution & the federal constitution. Abolish those illegal rules… and the you will remove the indoctrination shackles on our children.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 10:43 am
  11. @ Commenter #9 – You can’t even take responsibility for your insightful comment? This is a great post – I agree completely.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 11:00 am
  12. This is a great post, very helpful for my current situation. This post touches on so many issues that are affecting so many people right now. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 11:10 am
  13. If you speak to government officials off the record they will openly admit that dependence on the government is carefully cultivated from a very young age as was mentioned above. A dependent populace is more likely to obey the agenda set forth for it, and require less resources to control. Case in point, we are being openly deceived and lied to about the economic state of the country. Assertions and commentary from Washington cannot be reconciled with the numbers. The present hope of our leaders is that the propaganda will be self-fulfilling. Unfortunately, with time it will create a resentful and uncontrollable citizenry when the public realizes it has been duped. Personal responsibility is a dying concept in america because government intentionally tries to kill it wherever it takes hold. It will be interesting to see how the government handles the fallout from it’s most recent prevarications. It’s not going to be pretty.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 11:14 am
  14. Sorry Matt. 🙂 Gave the wrong person credit. I realized after I responded.

    I would disagree that public schools corrupt the young into being dependent upon the government.

    I went to public school my entire life and would prefer the government not to be involved in my life if at all possible.

    I believe personal responsibility starts at the home, with the family. If a childs parents are waiting for their handouts and not taking steps to change their circumstances. Why would we expect anything different from the child.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 11:29 am
  15. Well, I’m all with you on the personal responsibility aspect of this post. However, I must disagree on “being mad at the government spending money it doesn’t have.” If we take the approach of reducing spending and cutting government costs, many public services will fail, along with the ever-growing lower-class (due to numerous job losses from the failing economy). The government isn’t “lieing” to us as one commenter suggests: unemployment is sharply rising, and the stock market is in a consistent down trend. We ARE in a recession, possibly entering a depression. If anything, the government should be spending MORE money to create MORE jobs and help MORE people who have lost theirs get by. If the government has to pay people to dig a hole and fill it back up, that’s what they should do. It would put money in the pockets of more people, which helps them find food and shelter, along with being able to boost the economy through spending. But yeah, on a personal level, I agree with personal responsibility. But I think in cases like my wife’s father, who has been working in the auto industry for 25 years selling cars, and now continues to work 60 hours a week making no money (its commission based) trying to make ends meet, it doesn’t help him any to say he should be more responsible and screw him over by eliminating government spending that would help him. Just my two cents.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 12:03 pm
  16. This is a great post. My wife talks about this all the time when watching the news. It seems like everyone is looking for a handout and don’t want to put any work in to reap the rewards of hard work.

    I think personality responsibility and lack of it in recent years is much to blame in the problems we are currently facing.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 12:03 pm
  17. I think people still cling to the notion that life is fair, and that everything will just work itself out. If it doesn’t, they want to blame someone, or attribute it to bad luck. I believe that you make your own luck by acting responsibly and being prepared. A timely post for those who keep expecting someone to wave a magic wand to fix this mess.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 12:18 pm
  18. Great post, I couldn’t agree more. I went to one of those homeowner’s association meetings as well, and it’s amazing how fast they can get out of control, people saying they want this, that and the other thing. Like you said, no one wants to take responsibility for themselves and their actions.

    I think government IS doing a lot of wasteful spending. Another commenter mentioned that they thought we should spend more until more jobs are created. The problem is that the spending the government is doing ISN’T creating anything but government jobs, and a majority of the money is being wasted and isn’t really being accounted for. Billions of dollars! The wasteful spending is happening by both republicans and democrats, and it’s disgusting.

    If only we had a personal responsibility flu that could spread across the country 😉

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 2:07 pm
  19. “Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” – Frederic Bastiat

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 2:10 pm
  20. That was one of the best articles I have read on this site. Absolutely spot on!

    Here’s another quote.

    “Those without a vision have no future. Those without a future will return to their past” -Edwin Louis Cole

    We spend so much time complaining about what HAS happened that we ignore what needs to be done to make the future better. I’m afraid if we don’t learn from our mistakes, we will simply set ourselves up to fail in the future. This is why I’m an opponent of any bailout measures. It patches the symptom but doesn’t solve the problem. We need to suffer the consequences of our own actions if we are going to learn from them.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 2:23 pm
  21. Great Post! This is the kind of stuff that should be included in the fine print of a credit card application. Bravo!

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 4:00 pm
  22. Wow, guess I’m not on an island for thinking this after all…

    First let me thank everyone for their thought provoking comments, writing truly is more enjoyable when you have intelligent response.

    @Garry: So it is not only a national problem, but an international problem. That makes sense, considering governments around the world are starting to meld together more & more (I don’t think this anti-autonomous move is good for us the citizens).

    @The Weakonomist: Hopefully we will see a new movement toward personal responsibility! Like you inferred though, the pendulum will swing back…case in point the spending booms of the 1950’s & 60’s after the depression.

    @Kev & Christina: I’m glad this post helped you. I went through the same thing!

    @lbd: I bet the “gimmie mentality” is rampant down there after a hurricane. Makes me think of FEMA (uh…gag…) Sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a little

    @Baker: Thanks for your very encouraging words! And thank you for reiterating the importance of applying this principle to all areas of our lives.

    @Stu & Robert: I agree, that is why I will home school my children. I’m sure that could start a debate in itself & is a great topic for another post. 😉

    @Jeff: Thanks for calling out the guy who could not even take personal responsibility for his own comment! 😉 This made laugh out loud! It illustrated my point perfectly!

    @David: I am diametrically opposed to giving the gov’t more control and allowing them to spend more of our money, for any reason, and believe they have no business meddling in financial affairs at all. That said, I respect David’s opinion & will agree to disagree and will line up with Robert, Ethan, & BibleMoneyMatters on this one.

    @Corporate Barbarian: I appreciate your call to arms!

    @Wise Money Matters: Thank you for you encouragement. Your point about suffering the consequences of our own actions is key, and something I failed to specifically touch on in the article, so thanks again. PS…don’t jump to hasty conclusions about this article, while I appreciate the compliment, make sure you check out Nickel’s archives…there is so much awesome material that I could never have written.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 4:21 pm
  23. There’s other benefits in dumping the victim/nanny-state mentality.

    In addition to helping my finances, finally “manning up” 3-4 years ago and cleaning up the fiscal wreckage turned around my perspective on a number of things, chiefly related to career and community involvement. Much of that stems from approaching financial independence (close, and I was laid off in Feb so that income stream is gone) and realizing that, even though I’m not working and am now collecting unemployment, I don’t really *have* to get another job any time soon and have explored a number of alternatives to another soul-crushing corporate job, e.g. Peace Corps, teaching, etc. I don’t need much money anymore, so to hell with the rat race. I’m done. Even on UI I’m still able to save and when that runs out, it won’t matter anymore. I’ll be teaching English in Ecuador or something else useful to others besides bosses and shareholders by then.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 14th 2009 @ 5:20 pm
  24. This was one of the best written articles I have read in a long time. Very well done. I subscribe to the Wall Street Journals weekly wrap up email and they have similar articles sometimes. It is refreshing to know there are people out there with the same point of view. Thanks for putting it on paper Nickel

    Comment by Anonymous — May 15th 2009 @ 10:35 am
  25. While I honestly do not believe we will ever turn around from the downward spiral we’re on, I am glad to know there are still many people out there who realize the absolute necessity of personal responsibility, hard work, and integrity. The problem is though, there are so many people who have let themselves be dumbed down and follow the “sheeple” mentality, that they now outnumber us. I’ll be the first to admit that the $900.00 dollars of credit card debt that I have(slowly getting it as well as all other consumer debt paid off though) is entirely my fault. I just couldn’t wait to buy the laptop, the mountain bike, and the gasoline[ironically because I never had any money left after paying all the credit card bills 😉 ] I wrote two bounced checks because I never balanced my check book, if I even bothered to write the transactions down. However, after a bit of a scolding from my boss(non-work related conversation), I realized that I wanted better for myself, but I expected better of myself. I’ve watched my debt go down, my net worth go up(still in the negative, but going up), and my credit score has gone up. It all boils down to the fact, that even if someone else will do everything for me, what am I going to do when they can’t? Because that will inevitably be the case, and I pity #9 when it happens.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 15th 2009 @ 2:11 pm
  26. Sorry, but I think you missed the boat.

    You list how we shouldn’t point our fingers at others, because everyone is being irresponsible with their finances. But you don’t ask why? There has to be a reason. It’s not just random.

    What could possibly coordinate everyone in our economy to save less, spend more, and take on debt? How about the entity responsible for setting interest rates? Low interest rates punish savers, especially if the rates are below inflation (the rate of which this entity also controls, by the way). Low interest rates also make it cheaper to take on debt. And a situation that discourages savings and encourages debt means the money has to go somewhere… spending.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 15th 2009 @ 10:51 pm
  27. @IndependentO

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds as if you are asking who we can blame for our lack of personal responsibility?

    As eluded to in the post & comments, if the gov’t, or any other outside entity attempts and/or succeeds to lead us astray, regardless…it still does not trump the fact that we just need to accept responsibility for our own decisions, no matter what our circumstances. Which is the core message of this article.

    I hope this addresses your concern.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 16th 2009 @ 12:31 am
  28. @Matt Jabs,

    Yes, you are wrong in your interpretation of my comment. The point of the article is that individuals are being irresponsible by racking up debt. Is that really so? What should individuals do… save money in a savings account? That would be pretty irrational if interest rates are lower than inflation. You would be richer after 1 year by transferring that $100 into a stable asset than putting it in a savings account at 1% when inflation is 5%.

    What is personal responsibility if not acting rationally in one’s best interest? If the government manipulates interests rates and inflation rates such that it is not in one’s best interest to save, and therefore no one saves, are we really going to pin the blame on individuals?

    The problem is not some fault in our own ability to take responsibility for our actions. The fault is in monetary policy. This is not a deflection of blame; it is rational assessment of responsibility. Allow interest rates to return to market valuation of capital. Stop inflating the money supply and allow the market to return to the slow, gradual price deflation that is supposed to happen in a growth economy. Then see whether people start saving more and spending less.

    You can’t create punishments for saving and then criticize people who stop saving. That’s ludicrous.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 16th 2009 @ 1:03 am
  29. @IO

    I apologize for any misunderstanding. The points you raise concerning anti-consumer interest rates & faulty monetary policy are excellent, and spot-on. It is uber apparent that our “leaders” clearly do not have our best interest at heart, which has undoubtedly played a major role in the financial position of the citizenry!

    That said, the points made in the article still stand as well and are also accurate, just presented from a distinctive perspective.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 16th 2009 @ 1:43 am
  30. I loved how you changed the energy of the room to one where people 1) were no longer disagreeing 2) were thinking about what they COULD do.

    Just one sentence! 🙂

    Betsy

    Comment by Anonymous — May 16th 2009 @ 12:46 pm
  31. What a great post and conversation! Nice1, Matt.

    @David – Digging holes and refilling them does nothing but grow economic problems. It’s kind of like taking a cash advance from one credit card to pay for another. The bigger problem is still there and it’s made just a little worse with the additional costs involved–whether to the credit card company or to the guy digging holes–the real problem doesn’t go away.

    @IO – your point about a lack of motivation for saving versus spending is pretty far out there. Anyone wishing to invest above inflation can log on to TreasuryDirect.gov and pickup some I Bonds or TIPS. Besides, rational…errr…normal people don’t make a decision to buy concert tickets, purses, or whatever based on whether or not returns on savings are higher than inflation, they make purchases based on whether or not they (a) want it and (b) are able to afford it either (1) now with cash or (2) with payments to creditors.

    Also, monetary policy is a powerful force, but you’re giving it far more credit than it deserves.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 18th 2009 @ 1:52 am
  32. @Michael Harr,

    My point may be ‘out there’ in the unending fount of wisdom that springs from the depths of the personal finance blogosphere, but it seems to be pretty on target in the relatively irrelevant world of economics. For instance, Hayek was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work showing that market interest rates coordinate rates of investment with the market’s willingness to spend in the short- and long-term in a free economy.

    Now, you seem like a smart guy, which leads me to believe that you intentionally left any mention of ‘opportunity cost’ out of your list of things individuals base purchases on. The suggestion that individuals buy things when they want them and can afford them is simply wrong and would lead to an incredibly inefficient economy. The truth, which you surely will dismiss as subtly different, is that individuals act in a way that maximizes what they get for their money. In other words, if they want tickets for $12, they will only buy those tickets if they want them more than anything else they could buy for $12.

    You need only take my example to the extreme to remove the subtlety which apparently makes you disagree with me. Consider a scenario where you make 25% interest on your money. You could buy a bike today for $100 or a better bike later for $125. Some will buy the bike today, because they value the bike immediately, while others don’t care whether they have the bike right now (perhaps they have a decent bike already and are just looking to upgrade) and will wait for the $125.

    People do this all the time. Indeed, this is the whole point of saving: forgoing current pleasures in order to save up to buy something later that will be better. Are you more likely to save if it will take you 1 year to meet your goal than you are if it will take you 10 years to meet the same goal? Then, clearly the rate at which you can meet your savings goals influences your personal valuation of the time value of money. Therefore, interest rates very much DO influence the decision of whether to spend now or spend later.

    Is it a conscious decision? Not for most people, because they are not trained in economics. But economics did not make this up; economics only modeled how the market works. And while most of us cannot explain with specifics why we want to save instead of spend and what the parameters of that decision might be, the decision is nevertheless there and nevertheless made.

    Manipulations to the time value of money, deflating it or inflating it from where the market would assign it, has very drastic effects on individual spending/investment decisions. I beg to differ with you when you say I am giving it too much credit; if anything, I do not fully appreciate the ramifications of doing this, and I’d bet the farm our policymakers don’t either.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 18th 2009 @ 2:45 am
  33. Excellent post!

    I am so sick of the “blame game”! Please stop whining and just do something to help yourself!

    BTW, What I love is when even criminals claim to be the real “victim” . . .

    Comment by Anonymous — May 18th 2009 @ 8:04 am
  34. IO: You make an excellent point. I can certainly see that low interest rates would increase the temptation to forgo saving. After all, low rates simultaneously reduce both the rewards associated with saving and the costs with associated borrowing.

    That being said… Not everyone made the decision to go on a spending binge over the past several years. Were we irrational for not recognizing this ‘opportunity’ to spend instead of save? No, I don’t think so. The interest rate environment didn’t make saving a bad (or irrational, as you put it) option, it simply made it ‘less good’.

    I don’t have the numbers in front of me (and would love to be proven wrong with hard data), but I’d be willing to be that the spread between savings account interest rates and the inflation rate hasn’t been much different over the past several years vs. periods when we were a nation of savers.

    Comment by Nickel — May 18th 2009 @ 8:11 am
  35. @Nickel,

    Perhaps I overstated it with my words. I certainly did not mean to imply that everyone chose not to save. The point is that individual transactions are heavily influenced by interest rates, and the results are that people save less.

    Here’s the data for personal savings rate as percentage of disposable income: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/data/PSAVERT.txt

    Here is the data for Fed’s various measures, of which I’ll allow you to choose: http://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/h15/data.htm

    You need only look at the Fed’s own words. One of the primary reasons they adjust interest rates it to affect spending. Greenspan and Bernanke both call this “putting the foot on the pedal” of the economy. We had a great boom because we WERE a nation of savers (at least in the 10-11% range), but we eventually burnt through our savings, mostly in the 90s.

    If interest rates were higher, I would save more. If debt cost more, I would take on less and choose to pay down existing debt.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 18th 2009 @ 10:32 am
  36. Oh, I definitely agree that low interest rates have ben a major enticement. That being said, some people chose to borrow and spend like mad, whereas others didn’t. In the end, it’s still up to the consumer to choose. I think that Matt’s main point here is that you need to man up and make the right decisions regardless of prevailing interest rates, etc.

    Comment by Nickel — May 18th 2009 @ 10:54 am
  37. @IO – Obviously consumers make what they believe is the best decision (perceived optimal economic decision) when it comes to purchases, but you’re forgetting that most consumers are not particularly well versed in personal finance or economics. This has been documented by the many financial literacy studies that ask consumers relatively simple questions about personal finance and economics. In addition, retirement preparedness research also reveals that consumers have made a long series of poor decisions leading to nearly two-thirds of baby boomers not being ready for their golden years with approximately the same number planning to work much longer to make ends meet.

    While the availability of money at very low rates is a major influence in purchase decisions, I am a firm believer that myopia has far more to do with our current economic situation than simple low interest rates or low spreads between savings vehicles and inflation. It is the failure to consider long-term opportunity costs coupled with a short-term penchant for spending on perceived needs that has really put us in a mess. Fundamentally, economics does a very good job of explaining the macro, but one must also consider consumer psychology and resulting behavioral patterns before the picture can become more complete.

    I reject the notion that money supply is the only–or even the most important–consideration when it comes to explaining consumer behavior. While it is an enabler, consumer psychology is much more important.

    Consider the generation that endured the Great Depression. They were avid savers, shunned the stock market, and were incredibly skeptic of banks as a result of the psychological toll that was levied during this difficult period. Personal responsibility was at an exceptionally high rate because government safety nets were few and far between. As the next generation came up, times were better. They were better because banks weren’t failing, the market was still the market, but people weren’t wiped out the way they were in ’29 or through the ’30s. Finally we get to the next generation that really didn’t see anything close to a tough time compared to the Depression generation.

    It is this latest generation that has fallen victim to our economic problems as a direct result of not knowing that things can unravel at what some feel are unprecedented rates. The fact is that these times are not unprecedented and we aren’t feeling the full amount of pain that we would have prior to having a more enlightened monetary and fiscal policy. Is our government handling things as well as they possibly could? Certainly not, but I for one am thankful that TARP passed last year because we were literally weeks away from a complete collapse of our financial system. Fortunately for the citizens of Iceland, they were small enough to be rescued in the end. The United States is not in that kind of position and if we would have failed last year, I don’t know that we’d be having much of a conversation today.

    My point is that consumers have made trillions of bad purchase decisions. While they may have made good decisions when weighing the costs of one purchase compared to another, they have not made good decisions when weighing purchases versus savings, present value versus future value, etc. How else could you explain failure to contribute to employer sponsored retirement plans offering a match? For most of the plans offer a 50% or 100% match on contributions and surely this is a better deal than a depreciating flat screen television, an extra night’s stay on vacation, or even furniture for a new and bigger home.

    Seriously, economics is great, but it is inept in explaining consumer behavior at the personal finance level without adding information from other disciplines such as behavioral psychology, history, etc.

    You’re giving economics far more credit than it deserves. It’s an important part of personal finance, but it is still a part and not the whole.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 18th 2009 @ 11:42 am
  38. @Michael,

    All very well and good, and our understanding of behavioral economics and individuals’ tendency to spend is only more reason that further encouraging the behavior with monetary policy is irresponsible.

    If you’d like debate on the Great Depression or your interesting theory on why individuals don’t contribute to 401k, I would be more than happy to give my thoughts over email.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 18th 2009 @ 12:20 pm
  39. @IO – using your logic, why would you buy a $100 bike today that will end up costing $125 (give or take) including your credit card interest, when you could save up little by little and get that $100 bike for $100?

    Low interest rates may induce SOME additional consumption, but I don’t believe it causes the level we are currently seeing.

    All in all, this was a damn good post and unfortunately rings too true in today’s “gotta have it” society.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 18th 2009 @ 4:11 pm
  40. @Kevin,

    The answer is simple and is explained by econ 101 topics (not “my logic”)… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_value_of_money

    Comment by Anonymous — May 18th 2009 @ 4:14 pm
  41. @IO – I fully understand the time value of money. I’m asking why someone would rationally pay $125 for a $100 object (by using a credit card). The (low) interest rates you speak of in your argument do not exist for the consumer debt people have run up to no end. I have not heard of a single person say, “Hey, my credit card rate is down to 15%, I’m going to buy that new flat screen TV today!”.

    My point is, sometimes the financial aspects go out the window and can only be explained by the fact that humans are involved.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 18th 2009 @ 4:36 pm
  42. @Kevin,

    It doesn’t sound like you “”fully understand the time value of money”. Your argument is essentially saying that I am just as likely to buy a TV on my 0% introductory interest credit card as I am my 25% interest credit card.

    I have to quibble with the basic premise of your point, though. Even if Fed’s target rate does not affect credit card interest rates (which I strongly disagree with), that doesn’t mean that individuals are not more likely to put items on their credit card when the Fed’s target rate drops.

    I am not disagreeing that there are psychological aspects to spending.To disagree with my point saying that human behavior influences spending completely misses the point I am making. This post and many people here are saying that people need to “man up” and save anyway, even though they watch their savings get eaten away by inflation (even a mild 3% inflation rate ends up in a 56% decrease in spending power over 15 years!) is just plain odd. Rational people, including myself, will either attempt to find ways to invest with an expected rate of return above inflation (and that necessarily means more risk) or be more likely to spend.

    I’m not sure how you can quibble with the statements “if you punish savers, savers will save less” and “if you lessen the punishment on debt, people will take on more debt”. Your value judgment of whether individuals “should” do these things are irrelevant. They are necessary collective consequences to the actions. If you increased punishments for savings and savings rates did NOT drop, people would rightfully make the argument that consumers were not acting rationally. Similarly, if you decreased the price of debt, and debt rates did not increase, people would rightfully make the argument that consumers were not acting rationally.

    So, both available options are irrational?

    Comment by Anonymous — May 18th 2009 @ 4:59 pm
  43. WOW! Someone finally said something, other than me!

    I guess the whole root of the problem really is “live and let live.” I say this because people are too into “let them be them,” while not opposing the values behind what other’s do. This is for everything from disrespect, to not doing what your employer made to be your duties. It’s not just in the neighborhood associations.

    I have opposed that kind of thinking, but been called a “hater,” “psycho,” “too ugly to live,” “racist,” etc. I have been there. So i think it needs to be said by more people, other than me.

    This country had gone into a wimpy state of the passive “I’m not doing that!” Back when I was a child, VALUES SHOWED RESPECT FOR SELF AND OTHERS. Where did this go? Did we really lose ourselves enough to lose our own respect and self-pride?

    I know that people are dying because of this apathy towards work, respect and others. The few people who do recognise this, are considered “haters” by default, because they do not agree with the attitudes of one’s own pride being a hallmark of what a person is….REGARDLESS OF COLOR (which tends to get stuck in the hater mix, even though it’s nothing to do with the topic).

    Wake up America! If you don’t get some self respect and pride, you are going to kill yourself and others.

    My personal quote, that I find very true… “Live and let live only goes so far.” I point this out to you, because you cannot live and let live as someone drives home from the bar drunk, and kills someone, or themselves. Now how do you live and let live on that? Where was the respect and responsibility?

    Mikel Grenier
    Toledo, Ohio

    Comment by Anonymous — May 21st 2009 @ 8:56 am
  44. I am sorry Matt, but the present financial crisis was a PLANNED SCAM. It was planned at Basel 2. The toxic loans arose out of the Basel 2 scam that allowed shadow banking. Matt, you need to realize that the government of the United States look the other way on purpose. The rating agencies rated these crap mortgages AAA on purpose. The investment banks overleveraged on purpose. They all should be prosecuted and all should go to jail, yet they won’t because they are stronger than the government of the United States. They raid our treasury, they borrow at 1/2 percent and loan shark their credit cards to us. They have scammed us Matt. We need to walk away from all the crap loans and we need to step on these big banks while they are vulnerable. This is a protest, not a financial advice rant. But I guarantee you that if we don’t take down these banks now they will control every dollar you ever make in the future. They have the power to do away with cash if they want. Let alone gold, did you know that 90 percent of the currency of the United States is not backed by a piece of paper but rather exists on balance sheets only? We need to take money out of the big banks, quit paying loans, and change our phone numbers. Whatever you can do is good.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 21st 2009 @ 10:32 am
  45. @Gary #44: I don’t disagree with your info about the gov’t & banks pulling one over on us. But…we can never right a wrong with a wrong.

    Even though they have done what they have done, I still need to do what is right for myself. That way, when I pillow my head at night, I can rest easy knowing that despite being attacked from all sides, I did the right thing.

    Decisions like this allow me to stay off all the anxiety & anti-depression medications so rampant in our society today.

    Others may not agree, but this is the right decision for me.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 21st 2009 @ 11:05 am
  46. @Gary #44: Let me elaborate further.

    By “righting a wrong with a wrong” I meant that we should not shrug our personal responsibility and walk away from our commitments, regardless of what others have done. We committed to our loans and we need to fulfill our committments.

    That said, I am all for against protesting against a gov’t and a banking system of corruption.

    What I am trying to do is to sell my home to get out of my mortgage, and paying all my other debts off, never to enter into debt again.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 21st 2009 @ 11:19 am
  47. “The point here is simple: before we can expect others to act in a certain way, we need to be sure that we’re behaving appropriately ourselves.” Love it!!!!

    I just stumbled across your blog from J. Money and I love it. Very well written and thought out. I totally agree with what you have to say, and to sum it up we are lazy. We live in a country where we don’t have to assume responsibility for our actions (ex. spilling hot coffee), it is always someone else’s problem.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 22nd 2009 @ 11:26 am
  48. @Simplelivin #47 – Glad you found & enjoyed the article.

    Be careful, don’t spill your coffee! 😉

    Comment by Anonymous — May 22nd 2009 @ 11:49 am
  49. Hey Matt, trying to sell your home? Where do you live? Who would want to buy a home if you knew it was likely that home prices will decline by another 20 percent or even more if the economy tanks? Maybe you can find a sucker Matt.

    Actually, I am not accusing you of anything wrong in selling your house. But do you get my point that the bank scam has destroyed trust and confidence in the value of housing? You can extend that problem of valuation to the dollar, to the rate of interest being charged and to the value of all commodities.

    Commodities generally go up with inflationary expectations. However, commodities purchased with credit are not subject to that expectation, especially when the interest rates for future buyers could go through the roof, further diminishing the value of the house you are trying to sell.

    That brings up another point, the person who buys your house with a low interest rate could end up being in trouble if he needs to sell. Interest rates are being kept artificially low.

    So, I am saying that trust in the value of things has been undermined by the banks and the Bush administration. This destroys the fabric of society. Hope you can sell your house!

    Comment by Anonymous — May 22nd 2009 @ 12:17 pm
  50. While there’s a grain of truth in the OP and the commentary, there’s also a lot of old-fogeyism, an intellectual cousin to “kids these days” and “get off my lawn!”

    Personal responsibility will always be balanced against societal rights and duties. If you are looking for excuses to feel superior, there will always be people out there to give you good reason, but the vast majority of human beings are doing just fine and feeling quite responsible.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27th 2009 @ 11:06 am
  51. Hilarious Kyle – “whatever happened to personal responsibility” is definitely the “get off my lawn” of the money blogosphere, except even more common. There’s nothing wrong with the post, of course (except for the thought of living in a HOA neighbourhood – something I would never do for the sake of my sanity!) but this stuff has been repeated eleventy billion times in posts and comments over the moneyblogs, so there’s definitely a whiff of “aren’t I superior” to going at it for another round.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27th 2009 @ 11:53 am
  52. @Kyle & sohotosoho: Interesting take gentlemen. I fail to see the correlation between me taking responsibility for my own decisions and “I am superior”.

    Can you elaborate?

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27th 2009 @ 11:59 am
  53. Usury is evil. The banks say they make obscene profits on credit cards. People need to enforce usury law on their own since their governments won’t.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27th 2009 @ 12:19 pm
  54. Not you really Matt – I’m also a responsible debt-free person, there’s nothing wrong with the post and most bloggers are decent writers. But most commenters (including myself!) are not and another thread of dozens of alternatingly huffy and hysterical comments repeating the same thing over and over and pummeling strawmen is a bit banal ….. there but for the grace of god and all that. Kyle’s “young-fogeyism” is apt. In fact if you read user comments at blogs, forums and newspapers you’d think nobody was in debt. Maybe I shouldn’t!

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27th 2009 @ 12:53 pm
  55. @sohotosoho: Commentators do sometimes err from the central message of the post.

    Sometimes this is good (creates great discussion), sometimes it can severely detract from the article (irrelevant &/or hyper-critical comments).

    It is also true that a lot of commentators do not take the time to read the full article along with all the comments, leaving their comment partially disassociated from the discussion.

    I guess it will always happen…I just wish they would start taking personal responsibility for their comments! 😉

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27th 2009 @ 1:24 pm
  56. Sorry for the long comment, but here’s an example of the kind of thinking that is incompatible with personal responsibility (assuming David at 23 is the same person as David at 15):

    At 15, he says: “government should be spending MORE money to create MORE jobs and help MORE people who have lost theirs get by,” and then at 23, after telling us he’s on unemployment (which is intended to help tide you over WHILE you look for other work), he says, “I don’t really *have* to get another job any time soon and have explored a number of alternatives to another soul-crushing corporate job.”

    On personal finance blogs, we see daily examples of this kind of thinking – that working “soul-crushing corporate jobs” is something OTHER people should do so that WE can find our true passion and still have the services those corporations provide (like the airline corporation David will fly to Ecuador with and the corporation that built that airplane, and the cell phone corporation that will keep him connected and the IT corporations that allow him to post his comment).

    David may not realize it, but what he’s saying is that I should work harder and longer, so that my tax dollars and unemployment premiums can support him while he finds himself. Not surprisingly, I find that pretty darned annoying, far more annoying than my credit card companies, who have never done me a bit of harm and provided me lots of convenience.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27th 2009 @ 1:38 pm
  57. @AnnJo: I agree, well said.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27th 2009 @ 1:47 pm
  58. I enjoyed the post and the comments. I most like IO’s comments. One can go to the shadow stats website and see that actual Inflation is way higher than the published rate of inflation and has been that way for decades. Just look at the changes made to the cost of living index figured by the BLS (bureau of Labor Statistics). They keep changing the benchmarks on how the index is figured in order to not have to pay any more to SS recepients. The Banksters have been scamming us since 1913 when the Federal Reserve was created and congress/nay all 3 branches of government) are guilty (because they are owned by the bankers) of not taking the power to control our money from private bankers per our constitution. Watch the google videos “Money as Debt”, “The creature from jekyll Island” and Russo’s “America Freedom to Fascism”. Don’t mean to go black helicoper on you but there are people that control our government officials and it aint we the people. I myself borrow money at low interest because with inflation money borrowed today is worth less when paid back. Case in point: I borrowed 21K for 10 years at 2.4% with a share secured loan. The shares get .4% so it is a little more than 2% with taxes on any interest earned. By the time I pay back the loan I will have paid lots of interest- BUT THE MONEY PAID BACK IN FUTURE IS WORTH LESS than BORROWED with interest. Same with the chase visa card 2.99% for life of balance transfer loan. Most people borrow too much and end up in a jam. I only borrow what I can afford to pay off immediately if I had to.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27th 2009 @ 4:03 pm
  59. ” I fail to see the correlation between me taking responsibility for my own decisions and “I am superior”.”

    The mantra of “personal responsibility” is usually just rational-actor economics turned into a morality.

    Both the morality and the economic theory fail to address that people aren’t inherently rational. It’d be nice if they were, but they aren’t, and that’s why we look to institutions bigger than ourselves to help regulate our lives.

    It’s nice that you and I can consistently make rational financial choices, but we both probably had unique experiences and temperaments that made it so. I know I did.

    People who choose, for example, to give up rights to a home owner’s association, *are* taking responsibility in their own way.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27th 2009 @ 4:04 pm
  60. @Kyle: Perhaps I do take for granted the fact that these things are common sense to me! 🙂

    Excellent point.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27th 2009 @ 4:11 pm
  61. Hey almost there. I agree with you, the NWO is a financial world order that overrides much of government sovereignty.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 27th 2009 @ 5:21 pm
  62. I really don’t think that people today are necessarily less responsible than those of 40 or 50 years ago. But, the financial world around us has changed significantly.

    First of all, personal finance was a much simpler enterprise during the 1950s and 1960s. Most people were highly averse to taking on personal debt due to the “freshness” of the Great Depression. Also, high interest rates and tight credit were “self-limiting” to taking on personal debt. Most people looked forward to working for 40-45 years, then retiring with pension income (defined benefit plan), Social Security and Medicare.

    Fast forward to today. Personal finances today can be as complex as the finances of a small business. Personal debt has been cheap for many (until recently), widely available and marketed heavily. And, instead of defined benefit pension plans, most people today are in 401k plans where they have to manage their own “pension”.

    Succeeding in today’s personal financial environment requires a much higher level of sophistication and much more work than in the past. But, the ability of most people to navigate this “new world” has not increased.

    The additional “opportunities” that we have today mean more chances for bad financial decisions.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 28th 2009 @ 10:51 pm
  63. Ed (62):

    I can agree to some of what you are saying. However, values and monitary knowlege had changed since the 1980’s. A person who is just getting out of High School is less educated on money matters, not to meniton less focused on how to manage the fincial aspects of their lives. This can be seen in how those who get out of High School are so focused on status symbols… let’s call it what most call it, “bling.” With credit cards drawing contracts with universities, to make students “pay attention” to their (the bank’s/lender’s) ads, as they walk in the halls, does not help either. The “free gifts” entice them too.

    Marketing conditions what people think. Something “free” helps, since “TINSTAAFL” is no longer taught… you remember, the free lunch thing, not really being free, as advertised.

    A student nowdays is forced to think about personal image and wants. Back in the day, we didn’t think that way. We knew the value of a dollar, even if we were poor. I just do not se that in the 40 somethings and under.

    In other words, people are not forced (or taught) to think about money or their future, 20 minutes in front of them.

    I personally blame lazy (yes, i said lazy..as in welfare too) and overworked parents, as well as schools not teaching this, as in the past. Funny how the parents are in charge of the school systems, through tax dollars. Makes you think if the parents even care, if schools are still funded, for not teaching the basics of life.

    With the onset of this socialized “welfare” system, consisting of people not having to educate themselves about money, some parents will never learn how to keep out of debt, learn about fincial aspects in the future (or personal financial preservation), or learn from their mistakes. Make no note that we just saw many examples in the housing/banking sector… in the form of “Foreclosures.”

    Now people learn “something for nothing.” I find cleaning explosive bowel disorder mess less disgusting than that.

    Mikel Grenier
    Toledo, Ohio

    Comment by Anonymous — May 29th 2009 @ 4:43 am
  64. @Mike: I resoundingly concur

    Comment by Anonymous — May 29th 2009 @ 10:46 am
  65. Just wanted to let you know I linked to this in my weekly roundup post. Link is under my name below. Thanks!

    Comment by Anonymous — May 31st 2009 @ 2:26 pm
  66. There ought to be some value or upside to acknowledging mistakes, and taking responsibility for our actions; otherwise, folks might not be highly motivated to do so.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 19th 2009 @ 11:44 pm
  67. Hey Matt – Nice post! Good J interviewed you, or else I would have never found it.

    If everybody was personally responsible for their own mess, the world would be one big harmonious place to live!

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 20th 2009 @ 8:19 am
  68. @Financial Samurai: You got it. Instead of complaining about everything & everyone else each of us simply need to keep our mouths shut and get busy being a good example!

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 20th 2009 @ 10:26 am
  69. I agree with the article, but I think that we need to go a bit further as a society. We are so quick to blame society, write articles and blogs about other people, but when we leave our computers and go back into the real world, we are quick to go back to the same behaviors and forget that we do perform these actions on a daily basis!! We can’t continue to point fingers without looking within ourselves for the reasons…

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 28th 2009 @ 11:26 am
  70. @Jamie: Thanks for the input… actually, what you said in your comment is EXACTLY the point of this article!

    It’s about each of us taking responsibility for our own lives and our own actions.

    Cheers.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 28th 2009 @ 11:39 am
  71. I am a big fan of Matt’s and I can’t believe it took me this long to come across this post and read it in full. Great stuff and a message that each and every one of us (me included) should take to heart.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 29th 2009 @ 12:15 am
  72. Thanks CCC… although I consider myself a bit of a consumer advocate, I am also a staunch believer in taking care of your own responsibilities!

    Cheers.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 29th 2009 @ 3:25 am
  73. Personal Responsibility is part of an immutable Law. The First Law: The Law of Freedom. Ever human being on the planet is subjected to this Law, it is affect all the time and it reacts to our every thought conscious or unconscious. We as human beings are Free to think and act as we please and therefore we are Personally Responsible for our thoughts and actions. Ever thought we have conscious or unconscious is subjected to this process. We can not escape its reaction we only think we can and when we do we are fooling ourselves.

    Comment by Anonymous — Feb 22nd 2010 @ 7:47 am
  74. Thank you for stating what should be the obvious.

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 3rd 2010 @ 10:06 pm
  75. Great roll you have going here. So many comments by so many people, and some nice give and take. It’s almost – civil. Your point about never declaring bankruptcy hit home. I did declare bankruptcy, though I really had no choice. Reckless spending by my ex-wife and I piled up the bills. Credit was easy, paying was possible because we both had decent wages. Add a mortgage and car payments to all that debt, throw in a divorce where the judge decided all the bills were my problem, and I was left to live on $11.00 a month. My friends, it just isn’t possible to live on that.

    My point is, never say “Don’t” do anything. Perhaps “Avoid” doing soething, but don’t is too constraining. I’ve since developed a pay-as-you-go approach to debt – if we (remarried) charge anything on a charge card, the balance is paid in full each month. We own our house. The only “bill” we have is the car note, and that’s a choice we’ve made.

    So, you see, even those of us that are evil and declare bankruptcy can be redeemed. Sometimes, bankruptcy IS the only option, though based on my personal experience, it is never a good one.

    Again, thanks for the article. I absolutely agree with everything you wrote, except the “Don’t” file bankruptcy.

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 31st 2010 @ 5:00 pm
  76. I “stumbled” onto this article just searching for a general post or two about the advantages of personal responsibility, since there seems to me a bit too much complaining from people in my life (online and offline) around this holiday season. This is probably the quality I admire the most in an individual, and you seem to have summed it up quite nicely in this (older) post. Thank you.

    Comment by Anonymous — Dec 24th 2010 @ 4:25 am
  77. If you all decide to look at my articles now published at Business Insider you will see that the housing ponzi scam was a premeditated bubble, that people buy too much house because underwriters are told to stop underwriting, and that you have the right to walk away from this massive ponzi scheme cooked up by Greenspan and the central banks.

    Don’t forget, in February, 2004, Greenspan said you could get a better deal with an adjustable mortgage. This scam was established from the highest places in finance and government. Tim Geithner took over the NY Fed just when the private MBS got started. He presided over homeless people getting multiple mortgages and looked the other way. The shadow banking system was both fostered and hidden by the central banksters of the western world.

    Comment by Anonymous — Dec 24th 2010 @ 12:48 pm
  78. While I agree with the premise of your piece, personal responsibility is important.

    I think the root of the problem goes beyond what we admire, fame and fortune, it is more attributable to our economic system in general.

    The American people are generally attributed with, and rightly so in my estimation, a strong sense of fair play. We get aggravated at our sports when officiating is bad for example. Fair competition is a value we embrace.

    In our society we are expected to take responsibility for our actions, although, as you point out we are at a crisis point on this front at the moment. This crisis could well arise out of the fact that corporate america so dominates our lives. The most successful people are at the top of the ladder, a vast majority of our consumer goods come out of the corporate infrastructure.

    Of course the fundamental function of an incorporated body is to protect those involved in conducting and supporting that business from personal responsibility. Basically, we strive to raise our status in life, and in doing so probably tend to emulate those with the highest of status in our society, our corporate leaders. Well these people are protected from responsibility, why shouldn’t e be?

    This argument is not as well formed as I would hope, but I hope you see my point.

    Comment by Anonymous — Apr 11th 2011 @ 5:28 am
  79. You must be a far right-wing, Republican tea bagger. You clearly are full of hate and blame the poor not only for being poor, but for every problem in the world. Capitalism has been successful in convincing people like you that the poor people are the problem and create all the debt and issues America have. In reality, the reason people are poor is because of corporations and bad banking choices. We let corporations control our media and our govt, and make things that should be freely available for all, come at an expense. Some things fall under human rights. Those things include; housing, healthcare, birth control, abortions, education, food, housing, clothing, technology,etc. Those are things everyone needs to live, and shoule be universally and easily accessable, and funded by the govt. Your answer seems to be less taxes? Sorry we arein debt, we obviously need MORE taxes to pay off the debt, and then to fund these essential things that are grossly misfunded. Places like Planned Parenthood are having to close doors at some locations because of lack of funding, and because many states are pulling funding to women’s health centers! That is enraging! Women depend on those programs! Stripping women of her personal rights and reproductive choices is disgusting! This is 2012 and women are still having to fight to be able to take a birth control pill or get an IUD? That is absurd. No woman should ever have to ask if she can have those things, beg for it, or have to wonder how she can pay for it. You can’t go on and on about “personal responsibility” when there are women out there that are being forced to carry and have a child they don’t even want, because abortion money has been taken away by the “religious right.” She was trying to take responsibility! She was trying to terminate a pregnancy she didn’t want, and eliminate being forced into poverty because she had to drop out of college to take care of a child, SHE DIDN’T WANT! You still blame poor people for being poor when you take away their very rights to choose and access those facilities to make those choices? There are people in this country that come from generations of poverty and get no help or leg up to get out of it, they come from miniority groups that have been traditionally pushed out of mainstream and not given a chance, and back to women..who don’t even get equal pay for equal work! So your regardless claim about how it is all about “personal responsibility” is ludacris! When someone isn’t given the chance to get the job training to get a good job, how can they ever get into a place where they can be personally responsible? Of course they are forced onto welfare, and of course they are forced into crime..they just are trying to survive in a very greedy, selfish, uncaring world that people like YOU created! It is easy to tell others they need to take “responsibility” when you yourself clearly have never struggled or went without the basics, and had everything provided to you! You don’t know what it is like to be in poverty, to not have health insurance, to be homeless, to have a substance abuse problems you can’t help for, to be made to have a child you don’t want, to not be able to prevent pregnancy because you can’t afford birth control, to be a woman and be told you can’t have a job or can’t get the same pay, or a black person or Hispanic and be told you can’t have a job because of that! You don’t know what it is like for a young person to come out as being homosexual in our very very homophobic and hateful society! When someone is being socially and economically opressed…telling them “personal responsibility” is a bunch of bullcrap! Your attitude is egocentric and arrogant, and just..disgusting to me! You are part of the problem, not the solution. What about society’s responsibility ? Society has a responsibility to take care of people who are struggling and to make sure they have what they need. That is the responsibility of those who are fortunate enough to have good paying jobs and come from wealth! It makes me sick to listen to this garbage!

    Comment by Anonymous — Jun 7th 2012 @ 2:50 am
  80. Wow, that’s a lot of ignorance in one post. I had no idea you could take talking points from Media Matters and turn it into that long of a post. Some questions to embarrass you into realizing you have no idea what you’re talking about: what percentage of PP’s funding is public, and how much has actually been defunded (you clearly don’t know)? how is any woman being kept from buying birth control? why do you call women a minority when they are a majority? how does a corporation force someone to voluntarily take on debt? how can something be available to all for free if it costs money, time, labor to produce? when you say all these things should be “funded by the govt”, do you understand that doesn’t make it free, and do you understand where that money comes from and the administrative overhead and waste that occurs with that third-party payment scheme? do you understand the disruption of market mechanisms when the person consuming is not the person paying? who is keeping people from getting a good education? do you know that we pay more per student than any country in the world except Luxembourg? what evidence do you have that funding is the issue?

    I could go on, but really the point is that you clearly have no problem speaking about things when you know you have not bothered to look into the facts and consider the situation critically.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jun 7th 2012 @ 10:30 am
  81. @Treena-

    I sincerely hope you have a plan B world view because yours will not be mathematically possible in your lifetime.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jun 7th 2012 @ 3:13 pm
  82. @Treena, your comments only support my fear that American citizens have forgotten themselves and adopted an un-American world view, based partly on United Nations rhetoric, that supposes government regulation and communist pillars are the answer to all our woes. Only when you charge each individual to be fully responsible for their own lives can freedom live. Your position promotes a ruled people, not a free people. Personal responsibility and freedom are indivisible.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jun 7th 2012 @ 4:12 pm
  83. Great write up Matt. Funny how mainstream media rarely blames the person who made a choice to overspend or made a choice to not save, etc. I guess the mainstream media does not want to offend their readers even though it is the truth.

    Comment by Anonymous — Feb 11th 2013 @ 11:17 am

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