Professor of economics at Carleton University, Frances Wooley, says that “Financial literacy education is mostly ineffectual debt-shaming.”. Her article makes a number of excellent points, but contains a dose of pandering as well.
Most of what passes for financial literacy education doesn’t help people get out of debt. True enough. The forces that drive us to spend money are complex, just as the forces that drive us to gain weight are complex. Just telling a person to spend less rarely helps.
Most people with too much debt already know their spending is a problem, so telling them again has minimal effect. There are possible exceptions with naive young people who haven’t yet maxed out their first credit cards, but just telling them to stop spending so much isn’t likely to help much either.
Businesses do what they can to exploit our weaknesses and make it very easy to spend money with the tap of a credit card. Governments can certainly do more to help simplify people’s financial lives and help them avoid mistakes.
Wooley says “It’s time to stop ‘debt-shaming’ those who, faced with inadequate incomes and rising costs, are not able to stick to a budget.” When this is directed at government, it’s a valid criticism. When the public reads this, it becomes pandering. If you’re in debt and would like it to be someone else’s fault, here you go. This might help you feel better about yourself, but it won’t stop the debt collectors.
You can blame businesses for exploiting you, and blame governments for not fixing your problems, but doing so won’t improve your life. If nobody else will help you, your only choice is to try to help yourself. This is about pragmatism, not blame. Ideally, we should all be working toward societal change that will help people at the same time as each doing what we can to help ourselves.