Individual Credit and Public Policy

In the third part of a three-part series on
personal debt Associate Press, Yuri Kageyama compares American attitudes to
personal debt to Japanese.

The “American
dream” emphasizes
entrepreneurialism,
while the Japanese
equivalent stresses
stability and lifelong
employment with
a single company.
–The Associated
Press

The Japanese are so averse to credit they don’t use credit cards and they hoard cash, according to an article by Associated Press writer, Yuri Kageyama. Wrapping up a three-part series, Kageyama attributes Japanese attitudes to a 700-year-old culture based upon a cash economy.

Kageyama points out that several important factors produce this result. First, the culture has consistently supported individual saving. This reinforcement has created a cash economy so strong that people don’t even use checks.

A second factor is the emphasis on long-term stability. More than one person interviewed spoke of saving to buy things. This long-term view implies a sense of security that puts a great deal of trust in the future.

A third important factor is public policy. Japanese public policy favors big business and doesn’t provide tax breaks for personal loans for housing as U.S. policy. Kageyama writes that this has resulted in loan sharking among some in the society, a negative effect, obviously.

In summary, this series points to individual responsibility, cultural reinforcement and public policy contributing to greater indebtedness, as in the U.S., or personal saving, as in Japan. It raises for me a challenge to the church to assist people to get control of their finances through supportive relationships, financial training, counseling, Bible study and spiritual support. Helping people to find stability and balance in their personal lives is key to helping them gain control of their financial circumstances. This is especially important for the church because the wider culture promotes credit-buying. It’s too easy for people to get in over their heads and drown in credit card debt.

The AP series presents a balanced picture, but it also notes that the U.S. consumer, and the whole economy, is skating on a credit surfboard that could end in disaster. I conclude these posts with the thought with which I began. This is a spiritual problem. It is rooted in our understanding of ourselves as persons of worth because we are created by a loving God and our lives are meaningful regardless of our economic circumstances. The church was once a haven for the poor who were rejected by the world. Today, the church must be a haven for all persons, rich and poor alike, whose experience of the world is one of insecurity and a false promise of fulfillment through consumption. The church must be, as it has always been, the redemptive community.

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