I have been a columnist for the Kokomo Tribune since 1999; I have seen about 450 articles published. Consider what I have experienced during this span: the “tied” presidential election of 2000, the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001, and the initiation of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. If that were not enough, now we have the potential for a “mortgage gate” depression.

Wall Street has begun to recover from our immediate crisis because of government money. Most Americans realized that this “crash” affects everyone, not just the poor, middle class or wealthy; everyone took their “hits,” whether they knew it or not!

The bipartisan support for the economic bailout was monumental, and the plan should get the cash flowing again. As it stands, customers are oblivious to new-model cars because they cannot coax loans; “no sales” means layoffs: Why make cars if nobody will buy them? The laid-off people cut back, and we go down like dominoes.

The potential merger of GM and Chrysler seems possible. Ford may even get in on the act. Whether this happens now remains to be seen, but these desperate measures suggest a desperate time.

But even if we see a temporary improvement, America’s economy has an awful lot of clinkers. Too many Americans owe more than they can repay – even if they keep their jobs. We need to remember that bankers did not take guns to the heads of their clients and say, “You have to take out a loan or else!”

One economical astute friend granted me permission to share his insight: “I worked as a loan officer for a subprime lending institution for about a year. The story I saw over and over was: 1) a person gets in trouble with credit cards and 2) he refinances his/her home because home values are rising quickly. Now the budget is easier because payments have been lowered hundreds of dollars per month. 3) This person goes out and gets in trouble with credit cards again and 4) refinances his/her home to try to get out of debt.

“At this point in time they are at 100 percent of their equity (125 percent in some cases). Lenders think they can afford to offer this refinancing because house values are increasing so rapidly. Repeat the scenario 5) until the homeowner is forced into bankruptcy or foreclosure.

“The problem was that there was so much pressure to gain market share in that unbelievably lucrative industry ... that companies were irresponsible when customers were irresponsible and you have what we are struggling with today.”

Unlike both political candidates who are addressing these problems with scolding sessions, whining, and venting their “anger” (how angry can you really be when these lending institutions contributed toward your campaigns?), we need real understanding – and a real plan. Whining may impress the voters, but it fixes nothing.

The situation is not as simple as the responsibility question alone. America is socially a different nation that it once was: For example, we have more single parents than ever (not always by choice); this factor alone has forced many middle (or upper-middle) class individuals to live at near-poverty levels. Additionally, we have fewer good-paying jobs for the unskilled and minimally educated.

Nonetheless, unless we tighten our belts, the economic relief we feel today is but a short reprieve. If individual Americans continue to spend more than they make, the bubble will burst. It has to.

The best advice is a change of thinking: 1) only use your credit card if you can pay off the balance when the monthly bill arrives, 2) distinguish between real need and luxury; be conservative with using the word “need;” the words you use affect your choices; 3) avoid the three biggest mistakes: too big a house, too new a car, and eating out; and 4) rarely shop – even window shopping will tempt you to charge.

Rather than blame the government for our problems, we need to ask ourselves this question: If the government spent money as I do, would our economy be in deficit or surplus?

Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune.

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