Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Perspectives on debt

Two articles from spiked that have some profound points on debt from at quite different scales.

The first looks at personal debt and consumerism in the developed world, pre-Christmas and in preparation for the annual guilt trip foisted on people about the commercialization of Christmas. It concludes that what critics dislike is not really debt at all but the whole idea of mass popular consumption itself.

I must confess I am bemused by this and by the fixation some intellectuals have with "over-consumption". I still have not seen an effective definition for what constitutes over-consumption, other than it reflects purchases beyond the level the commentator can afford and thus must be excessive. The problem is of course, that all moralists want equality but they want it with those who have more than them and not those who have less.

The second article looks at debt at an international level and ponders the impact of China stepping in to fill the void created by western adherence to moral clauses in its contemporary aid programs to Africa. No simple answers but a very thoughtful discussion that calls into question how we balance geo-politics, human development and our own sense of principle: all of which can be (and often are) in conflict with one another, if not in direct contradiction of each other. Should the West abandon its adherence to democratic principle and the "fight" against corruption? Not necessarily. But one does hope that the fight is genuine and not mere rhetoric and political expediency fueled by media moments and celebrity endorsements.

Problems such as international debt and poverty are tremendously nuanced and context specific. They are vexing political problems and, as such, subject to the vagaries of political expediency and prevarication. Moreover, while these characteristics often are the key aspects in their perpetuation, they also are the only available means of resolution. It is a conundrum that our increasing scientific knowledge and improved technology does not equip us to resolve. What is needed is wisdom and leadership: two commodities for which there has never been a surplus.