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Americans to More Debt: Talk to the Hand


Our new allergy to credit is just heating up.

Washington just doesn't get it: We don't want more debt.

While congressmen berating bank CEOs for their unwillingness to lend out their bailout money makes for a nice media clip, it reflects the growing disconnect between our elected officials and any semblance of reality. Not that the relationship was ever particularly close - but lawmakers are floundering for good press while the nation's economic future slips further and further from their tenuous grasp.

Bloomberg reports American consumers are wary of taking on more debt, as expectations about eroding economic conditions are forcing people, to *gasp* make responsible decisions about their personal finances.

Bloomberg cites Midsouth Bancorp (MSL) president C.R "Rusty" Cloutier, who says that, despite aggressive marketing, town hall meetings, and $20 million in TARP money, Midsouth's customers just aren't taking out new loans.

This is the rejection of debt Professor Depew speaks of when discussing the structural deflation we're currently experiencing.

Credit is based on trust. And while conventionally we view this relationship as one in which the lender must trust the borrower to repay his debt -- at least to an extent that's commensurate with the interest rate -- it does go both ways.

As lenders like Citigroup (C), Bank of America (BAC) and Wells Fargo (WFC) are increasingly being painted as corporate marauders out to rape and pillage the American public, would-be borrowers are wary of putting their financial future in the hands of these men of questionable repute. And with credit-card companies rushing to alter terms, it's no surprise consumers are reluctant to extend themselves further.

Still, lawmakers are pushing through an economic stimulus package that depends, in part, on a willingness on the part of consumers to keep spending. Their delusion is only outmatched by their hubris - the belief that a bunch of self-interested politicos can coerce the average American into making ruinous financial decisions for the betterment of the country.

Floundering industries -- notably automakers and homebuilders -- are counting on government subsidies to encourage Americans to keep borrowing to buy their products. But what General Motors (GM), Ford (F), Centex (CTX) and KB Homes (KBH) don't understand is this: We just don't want what they're peddling. And we certainly don't want to borrow against it.

The transition from a debt-dependent, credit-drunk consumerist society won't be immediate: It's taken 18 months of financial panic for evidence of the shifting social mood to make its way into the mainstream.

But as the economic outlook continues to darken, the country becomes more disenfranchised, and the government grows ever-more addicted to sound bites and empty promises, reality will set in.

For the past 20 years, we've been blithely driving along an economic road that ends in a cliff. And that cliff is now in our rear-view mirror. We're tumbling, groping for any branch that can save us from the fall. But each one of these new government programs, bailouts and rescues simply tries to set us gently back on the road from which we only just plummeted.

We already know where that path ends, and it ain't pretty. What say we try another road?
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