Monday, March 05, 2007

When is enough, enough?

Many Canadians (maybe even most Canadians) take debt for granted. We don't think about whether or not we will go in debt, but rather, how to manage debt - that is, how to keep solvent while still enjoying all of the benefits of life in an affluent society. Ever look at car ads in the local paper? You'll be hard pressed to find one that lists the price of its cars. What you'll see is the monthly payment or lease. We go in debt for all kinds of things - "essentials" like cars, houses, furniture, appliances, technological gadgets, vacations, education, clothes, even groceries. "Buy now, pay later" schemes, payday loans, easy credit - all of these entice us to buy things we can't afford.
According to a CBC News Indepth feature (, Canadians have more than 50 million Visa and Master Card credit cards and 24 million more retail credit cards. With a total population of around 31 million, that's 2.4 credit cards for every man, woman and child in Canada! And credit card debt is only a small part of our individual and collective debt load. Here's a multiple choice question for you:
How much money do Canadians owe for consumer debt?
  1. 152 billion dollars
  2. 352 billion dollars
  3. 552 billion dollars
  4. 752 billion dollars

Just so you understand the question: collective consumer debt is the total amount of money that Canadians owe for consumer products including things like mortgages, car payments, credit card debt, bank loans, student loans, etc. That is, money we owe for products and services we are already enjoying but haven't yet paid for. Put another way, it is a tangible measure of the extent to which we Canadians are living beyond our means.

The answer: 752 billion dollars ($752,000,000,000). While we're doing the math, that's a debt load for every man, woman and child in Canada of about $24,258! If you don't believe me, check out the Mclean's magazine article (Canadians' Personal Debt at Historic Levels) at

So - we live in one of the most affluent countries in the world and we're still living over $750 billion dollars beyond our means. At least that's the conclusion I draw. And, you probably know what I'm going to say next - here's the other side of the coin:

  • Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day.
  • The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.
  • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
  • Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn't happen.
  • 20% of the population in the developed nations, consume 86% of the world’s goods.

These stats are all from and there are lots more depressing stats there if you have the stomach for them!

Are we like the frog in the kettle (in case you don't know that analogy, they say you can put a frog in a pot of water and put it on the stove and bring it to a boil and the frog won't jump out because he gradually adjusts to the change in water temperature - no need to try it but you get the idea!)

How have we allowed this to happen? And, for those of us who call ourselves Christians, how are we going to explain this when we're called to give an account? When is enough, enough? When will we realize that our ever improving standard of living is NOT a good thing? At least it isn't if we're at all concerned for the plight of our neighbors in low income countries. And what about our own kids and grandchildren? I heard recently that the practice in traditional native communities is to consider the impact of any decision for seven generations down the line!

I've heard that if the whole world were to live as we do in North America, we would need four or five planet earths. From where I sit, my guess is that's not going to happen...

Conclusion: enough is enough! We need to learn to control our appetites for more of everything and become committed to sharing the world's scarce resources.

In a speech entitled "Make History: Make Poverty History" (2003), Nelson Mandela said this: "Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice."

1 comment:

Julio said...

Thanks for this blog. It is very challenging.