What do Greece, Washington, and potential mortgage-skippers have in common? They're on the verge of debt default. Why the ethical disregard about the effects of default on others?
Back in the day of Charles Dickens, anyone not paying a debt could be arrested as a moral menace to society. While debtors’ prisons aren’t coming back, it is worth recalling such Victorian virtue in light of three debt crises:
2. Greece appears headed for a debt default (or “restructuring”), which could trigger Portugal, Ireland, and other European countries to follow. Last year, Greece’s debt woes dragged down the world economy.
3. More than a quarter of Americans holding mortgages worth more than the value of their home – and who can afford to pay – say they would consider walking away from that payment promise. And the percentage of these potential deadbeats who may commit such a “strategic default” has doubled over the past year, according to Fannie Mae.
If the world isn’t careful, a certain ethical callousness may set in soon about the ease of breaking one’s word, as well as ignoring the ricochet effects on others.
Voluntary default, either by countries or individuals, corrodes the trust needed to hold a society together and help it grow. Such a loss of integrity can take years to regain while dragging down others with it.
Just look at American neighborhoods where those with “underwater” mortgages simply pack up and leave. The value of nearby houses deteriorates and banks have less money to lend. If enough people default, the housing market will worsen even more, causing more government red ink and slowing the economy.