Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Buy now, go bankrupt, get another credit card

I was having lunch with my friend Melissa* about what we might do if we lost our jobs and somehow had to support families in a perilous situation. Given we are both unmarried, single girls we also decided that somehow we had equally scurrilous men in our lives who were either absent or providing no worthwhile help. While I was musing over the jobs you could do and still find time to support a family, Melissa glanced at me and rolled her eyes.
"It's easy," she said, "just run up credit card bills and get a council house, that way your kids can have whatever they want." And what about when you can't pay them back? “Well then you just claim for bankruptcy and get new ones, the companies are stupid anyway, they let anyone have a credit card these days."
So this is what the 'easy living' of the past few years has borne.

Somehow we've introduced the concept of easy wealth; the idea of earning has been lost between the immediate promise of a shopping spree, a new car, a new house or even the simplest girlish pleasure - that new pair of shoes. If Primark, the holy grail of all cheap, immediately-purchasable items, produced the option of store credit - this would be greedily snatched up in a flurry of fluorescent tops and bio-degradable jewellery. Somehow, the buy now - pay later option has become a way of life that we seemed determined to establish as a right rather than a benefit. The fact of today's society is that a reward for saving needs to be tangible, after years of propagating a spend, spend, spend society it is difficult to see another way forward that will attract the masses back to their banks.

Another factor that seems to have expedited the debt culture is the blame culture. My favourite afternoon laugh a few years ago were the personal injury adverts, "Nigel couldn't afford this brand new Mercedes, until he tripped and grievously injured himself at work!" I didn't (and still don't) have a problem with the way the advertisers tried to bring in clients, I found it more interesting that they perceived the society of today would be more likely to claim because they thought they could get shiny new status symbols from it, not because it would help them pay bills and support their families during that difficult time. Although I couldn't put my finger on the exact point when we shifted to a society that gains without the pain it had become obvious from the huge rise of high street profits, among other things, that we intended to spend what we had and then what we didn't.

Rinsing the system for personal benefit seems to have reached a new level with the saga of MPs expenses and the folklore that Sir Peter Viggers' duck island will now become. Although I can agree that the idea of an MP claiming for dry rot in a house miles from her constituency or a giant plasma TV being an irksome way for my tax dollars to be spent, the idea that the individual MPs are to blame for claiming for such absurd items seems bizarre. At any point along the way the claims could have been rejected yet they weren't. They were in fact rubber stamped and paid (in some cases long before they reached the front page of The Telegraph) and that really should be the issue. In a system, a culture and a lifestyle where you can say 'me, me, me' with gloriously reckless abandon, why is anyone surprised? The most tiresome and weary aspect is the majority of the self-righteous public, a large amount of whom are unlikely to have voted in the last election given the dwindling numbers, on their moral plinth trying to suggest they wouldn't have done the same. I rather feel sorry for the ducks in their gardens.

*name changed