One placard at the moronic (but apparently well-attended!) anti-tax “tea party” protests reads “You can’t borrow your way out of debt,” and that just floors me, because it just isn’t true and I have the experience to prove it.
After coming back from a high school exchange in Japan and attending a semester of community college, I suddenly decided that I needed to get out of Connecticut and transfer to a four-year univserity as soon as possible. A combination of a lack of preparation, a burning need to get out of my hometown, and plain ignorance of how money works led me to forego cheaper options and attend a private university funded almost entirely on student debt (in a ratio of around 75% variable rate private debt and 25% fixed rate direct federal borrowing). At the end of it I was many tens of thousands of dollars in the hole, but today less than 4 years later I am two months away from being debt-free, all thanks to “borrowing my way out.”
At the end of my education I had a degree in “International Relations” – essentially a liberal arts program. I left the system without much in the way of skills, but college did give me two things that would come in very handy later on – a bona fide college degree and the time and impetus to dedicate to accumulating knowledge (a good portion of which came through classwork) and compulsively studying Japanese, all without any immediate need to make ends meet.
But without any directly marketable skills and no immediate job prospects, I stayed afloat in Washington DC after graduation through multiple part-time jobs (at one point I was working for four separate companies), occasional parental assistance, and deficit spending with one of those “pre-approved” credit cards they were always sending me back then. I also deferred my student loan repayment to the last possible moment, a decision that added another $10,000 in piled-on interest by the time I started paying.
But I kept at my jobs and eventually landed a gig translating for a law firm. Though I already had some translation skills before starting (documented in early MF posts!), the office experience, from the basic administrative duties of a “legal assistant” to keeping up with the high-paced research activities of my boss, was a very uphill learning curve, and the salary was just barely enough to survive on and pay a $1000 a month minimum payment.
But I somehow managed to stay afloat, and while I left that firm to follow Mrs. Adamu to Thailand, I continued working and improving as a freelance translator. When I eventually made my way to Japan, I easily landed a much better paying job (at a time when the JPY-USD exchange rate was at its most favorable in a decade) that put me on the path out of debt bondage.
So by dint of this experience I know that with a little luck knowing how to learn from people and ask for and accept help, perseverence, development, and talent can end up paying big dividends, as long as you are willing to invest in yourself. My own experience was not ideal as I made some “bad” decisions initially (though I do not regret the path my life took since otherwise there would be no Mrs. Adamu), but then neither is this recession. While many representing the underdeveloped economies argue for sustainable growth free from major-power exploitation, America has been in the grip of the “cult of progress” for more than a century. Our future prosperity is tied to economic growth, so in the bad times we seek to limit the downside through deficit spending and a series of debt rollovers.
I wonder if any of the protesters have had similar experiences. Perhaps it is tough to relate big, nationwide events to everyday life, but I am shocked that so many are ready to throw common sense to the wind and buy into idiotic catch phrases no doubt orchestrated by Astro Turfers who view them as nothing more than pawns that are useful to serving an end entirely removed from the actual protesters’ interests. There is nothing explicitly liberal or offensive about public works spending, so it doesn’t make sense to oppose in such and ugly and kneejerk way just because it doesn’t come from the right wing’s preferred sectors like the military. And Obama’s budgeting actually improves the tax burden of most families. It is really hard for me to understand people like the “Obama is a fascist BECAUSE HE IS!!!!” guy:
But perhaps Matt Taibbi has it right when he calls these people the peasant class, always ready to hate an external enemy rather than face their own lots in life:
The really irritating thing about these morons is that, guaranteed, not one of them has ever taken a serious look at the federal budget. Not one has ever bothered to read an actual detailed study of what their taxes pay for. All they do is listen to one-liners doled out by tawdry Murdoch-hired mouthpieces like Michelle Malkin and then repeat them as if they’re their own opinions five seconds later. That’s what passes for political thought in this country. Teabag on, you fools.
From another article:
After all, the reason the winger crowd can’t find a way to be coherently angry right now is because this country has no healthy avenues for genuine populist outrage. It never has. The setup always goes the other way: when the excesses of business interests and their political proteges in Washington leave the regular guy broke and screwed, the response is always for the lower and middle classes to split down the middle and find reasons to get pissed off not at their greedy bosses but at each other. That’s why even people like Beck’s audience, who I’d wager are mostly lower-income people, can’t imagine themselves protesting against the Wall Street barons who in actuality are the ones who fucked them over. Beck pointedly compared the AIG protesters to Bolsheviks: “[The Communists] basically said ‘Eat the rich, they did this to you, get ‘em, kill ‘em!’” He then said the AIG and G20 protesters were identical: “It’s a different style, but the sentiments are exactly the same: Find ‘em, get ‘em, kill ‘em!’” Beck has an audience that’s been trained that the rich are not appropriate targets for anger, unless of course they’re Hollywood liberals, or George Soros, or in some other way linked to some acceptable class of villain, to liberals, immigrants, atheists, etc. — Ted Turner, say, married to Jane Fonda.
But actual rich people can’t ever be the target. It’s a classic peasant mentality: going into fits of groveling and bowing whenever the master’s carriage rides by, then fuming against the Turks in Crimea or the Jews in the Pale or whoever after spending fifteen hard hours in the fields. You know you’re a peasant when you worship the very people who are right now, this minute, conning you and taking your shit. Whatever the master does, you’re on board. When you get frisky, he sticks a big cross in the middle of your village, and you spend the rest of your life praying to it with big googly eyes. Or he puts out newspapers full of innuendo about this or that faraway group and you immediately salute and rush off to join the hate squad. A good peasant is loyal, simpleminded, and full of misdirected anger. And that’s what we’ve got now, a lot of misdirected anger searching around for a non-target to mis-punish… can’t be mad at AIG, can’t be mad at Citi or Goldman Sachs. The real villains have to be the anti-AIG protesters! After all, those people earned those bonuses! If ever there was a textbook case of peasant thinking, it’s struggling middle-class Americans burned up in defense of taxpayer-funded bonuses to millionaires. It’s really weird stuff. And bound to get weirder, I imagine, as this crisis gets worse and more complicated.