Have you heard that there are economic problems afoot in the United States? Have you heard about people buying big, expensive houses with almost no money down and going into foreclosure? Have you heard about the subprime mortgage industry meltdown and its repercussions on Wall Street?

Oh, of course you've heard all those things. You probably understand them far better than I do, for I have no formal training in economics. I just know about the gyrations in the stock market, the plunging value of houses in the part of the country where I live, and the number of people losing their jobs.

There is no way I can explain the complex economics of it. But we all understand the ethical implications of what has happened. There is an evil impulse that has percolated through human hearts from the beginning of time. The Bible says: "[T]he love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10 NIV).

Our culture has addicted itself to leveraged debt. Big corporations, small businesses, churches, homeowners, individuals — all have been guilty.

We are enticed by the sort of radio commercial I heard day before yesterday. "Come to our big home furnishings sale this weekend. Fill your house with beautiful new furniture. No down payment. No payments for two full years. And we even pay the sales tax for you!" So we have had people borrow 110% of the value of a new house, fill it with furniture from stores like that one, and abandon both to foreclosure and repossession. What's wrong with this picture?

Americans spent some 10.8 percent of our after-tax money on servicing debt back in 1982. Today the average consumer must spend more than 14 percent of after-tax income just to stay current on household debt.

Long ago and far away, thrift was a virtue.
Long ago and far away, thrift was a virtue. On what must have been another planet, saving was encouraged. And I've even heard of people who actually refused to buy houses, luxury cars, and jewelry they couldn't afford!

Stinginess is not virtuous. Tightfistedness is not a good thing. Parsimony is not to be envied. But thrift, financial prudence, and thinking about long-term consequences over short-term gratification will have predictable outcomes: You are more likely to have money for your own needs and with which to serve God by helping others.

The single driving force that will prohibit these good effects is the same one that has put us in the mess we face: greed.