The spouse, a now-retired professor of film studies, who was certainly entitled to be considered “outstanding in his field,” addressing movies from a literary and communications media perspective and having authored a couple of biographies of Nevil Shute Norway and Charlie Chaplin, as well as the totally original study of movies about war, “Looking Away; Hollywood and Vietnam“, is not really a studious person. Indeed, it’s quite likely that he moved from the study of novels and poems to film because movies made it possible for him to be somewhere else, even as he had to sit still in a room. So, it is a running joke with people looking for him now to be told that he’s out, standing in his field, admiring his , most which (13) he has dug by hand. Obviously, other people can admire them, too, and they don’t even have to be out standing in the field. They can see them from the road.

But, that’s not really the point of this post. This intro is just to explain my somewhat astonished amusement at a report from the Federal Reserve that I happened to peruse today, which may explain how come everybody seems to be so confused about debt.

The formal title of this report, which the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis issues quarterly, with about a two month delay – preliminary figures for the quarter that ended in September came out on November 7th – is “Consumer Credit-G.19.” I mention that with such specificity, because this is a document certainly worth perusing, especially when you realize that the top category, “Consumer Credit Outstanding,” actually refers to what consumers owe to banks and other financial institutions, including, increasingly, the Federal government.

They call it credit because, of course, they’re looking at money from the perspective of the banks. They have extended credit to consumers and consumers bit and, as a result, the consumers are now in debt. But, you’d never know it from the accounts. From the perspective of a normal person, the whole system is ass-backwards. Indeed, most recently, the banks are issuing debit cards, which actually mean they’re holding money for you in an account and, if you want to use it, they’ll charge a processing fee. And consumer credit outstanding does not refer to the max the bank has agreed to lend, but that hasn’t yet been spent. No, “consumer credit outstanding” is the sum total of what we all owe, loans on real estate excepted.

As of September 2012, projected, American individuals are in debt to the tune of two trillion, seven hundred and twenty-two billion dollars, not including what we owe on our houses. That’s almost two hundred billion more than we owed at the end of 2007, but in 2009 we owed almost a hundred billion less than before the crash. Which means that the banks were collecting less interest. Moreover, the chart of “major holders” of debt reveals that where we owed the federal government a mere ninety three billion back in 2007, in 2012 that’s projected to have increased to five hundred and nine billion dollars.
A footnote explains:

Consumer loans held by the federal government include loans originated by the Department of Education under the Federal Direct Loan Program, as well as Federal Family Education Loan Program loans that the government purchased from depository institutions and finance companies.

No wonder the banks aren’t happy. That’s about four hundred billion on which they’re no longer collecting interest – the interest, btw, which is still due but which is now supposed to pay for Medicaid expansion.

See, now that’s what I call an outstanding deal – one for which the Obama Administration deserves credit. ‘Cause, I for one, definitely prefer debts being owed to us, rather than the greedy banksters. And, you know, they were greedy. If they’d been content with a modest service charge for handling our bank accounts, they wouldn’t have had these recurring crashes.

That’s not just my opinion. Listen to Warren Stephens, the Lord of Little Rock, who calls himself a middleman, expound on how prudent investment is done.

Finally, it’s no wonder people don’t know which way is up when the economic jargon is laced with euphemisms, to boot. Consumer credit outstanding!! That’s debt, buddy, and we can handle it. Our Uncle Cons are counting on us to continue to be confused.

Editor's Note: This story also published at Hannah's Blog, Daily Kos and Blue Hampshire: Politics. Photo by the author.

Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."