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Fiscal folly: Maybe Washington isn't to blame

December 08. 2012 9:22PM

The fiscal cliff looms, our national debt grows like Jack's beanstalk fed Miracle Grow, and there is little hope for putting even the smallest restraints on the unsustainable expansion of federal entitlement spending. Americans blame Washington for our nation's dire financial position, often saying the system is "broken." That is a copout. Washington has its flaws, but none of this would be possible if we did not vote for it.

Americans have spent decades voting for more spending than we can afford. Before you blame Washington, check your personal budget. If you have one, that is. Most Americans (56 percent) do not have a budget, according to the 2012 Financial Literacy Survey conducted by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. More than a fifth, 22 percent, have no idea what they spend each month on housing, food and entertainment. No idea!

A third of Americans do not pay all of their bills on time, and 39 percent say they have no non-retirement savings. And yet, after a few years of paying down our debts, we are starting to borrow more. Average credit card debt in the U.S. rose in the third quarter by 4.9 percent to $4,996 per person.

A people who cannot balance a check book cannot be expected to balance the federal budget.

Though the situation is gloomy, there might be a way to fix things in the long term. Our children are not yet doomed.

They can learn from our mistakes if we teach them to. Right now we do not. Basic financial literacy, a fundamental building block of civil society, is not required in many public schools in New Hampshire.

In the "Live free or die" state, the foundational requirement for living free - personal financial security - is left to chance.

This newspaper partners with Fidelity Investments to teach sixth-graders about the stock market (these days, investing is essential to financial independence). Schools let us in to do this. Teachers know it is needed. Why don't politicians?

Last year the House passed a bill to require the teaching of basic financial literacy in New Hampshire public schools. It died in the Senate.

In the next session, legislators should revive that bill and pass it. It will not solve our nation's most immediate financial problems, but it would help our children learn not to repeat the mistakes that created these problems.

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