Financial Literacy – Political Agenda Priority One

Nancy B. Alston

The need for Financial Literacy among populations is not a new one. Former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has identified it and currently Robert Kiyosaki and Donald Trump are arguing it is pivotal to the future success of nations. The message appears to be going unheeded in the places where decisions are made governments. Continued failure to ignore the message is going to have impact for two key reasons.

Reason One – The Impact of Reduced Spending Capacity

Within days of the World Trade Centre attacks of 9/11, President Bush called on the American people to go out and keep spending to stimulate the American economy. His message was twofold. Firstly keep spending to stimulate the American economy and by virtue of its size, create a knock on effect to the global economy. The gobal economy is like a shark – it has to keep moving to survive and to do that it needs feeding on money. However given the current level of financial literacy, disposable income is something of a finite resource and we are reaching the upper end of how elastic that can be.

Personal spending is either done via existing resources i.e. salary or through credit. Both however are not limitless. In fact for many, the salary option has dried up. Many people now are using credit cards and other sources of credit in order to maintain their spending pattern. Worse still the signs are showing, that people are now so extended that they require more credit just to meet the existing credit repayments. Some have even gone beyond this extreme stage and we are starting to see personal insolvency rise.

Eventually the ability of these people to spend will be severely limited and as such they will no longer be able to feed the never ending appetite of the economy. Without a constant flow of money at best there will be a slowdown. The possibility of a downturn in an economy is also a very real possibility along with it’s knock on effects.

Reason Two Welfare Spending and its upward spiral

Welfare spending is on an upward spiral. As Robert Kiyosaki and Donald Trump point out in their book Why We Want You To Be Rich it has been calculated that the American welfare system is beginning to run up debts to the American people that all the stock and bond markets in the world could not repay if cashed in. They also observe this could very well worsen as the Baby Boomer generation begins retiring making a major pull on an already overstretched resource.

The problem has always been known about but has been moved forward like a ticking bomb by governments all hopeful that it does not go off on their watch. Unfortunately the ticking appears to be getting faster indicating we are nearer than ever to this bomb going off.

Is There an Answer? If there is, its certainly not to repeat the same actions. Furthermore, financial literacy needs to take increased prominence in the nations minds. People need to know how to think more effectively about how they handle their money. One of the best ways to begin this process is to begin with the young. The way to do that is to expose them to financial literacy in the one institution they spend their formative years in – school. This however will need projects and plans to introduce financial literacy to be formulated right now. Not tomorrow, not sometime in the future. Today.

The kind of political will it will take to achieve this means the subject will have to be on the to do list of every man and woman who considers themselves to have some political clout. It’s going to have to be on the talking points of every major politician in order to create the kind of groundswell that makes things happen.

Whilst this may sound a major undertaking, politicians respond to two key things which could help get it on the agenda. The first is overwhelming demand for action from the people that vote for them. When these people make enough noise and they feel their position is under threat – politicians respond. The second is when they understand there is something in it for them – recognition as being pivotal to it’s achievement and can create a legacy of their time in office – they respond. Once they understand what’s in it for them this could become easier.

Well what is in it for the political figures of our time?

If financial literacy is placed in schools we potentially have the ability to produce the first financially literate generation. The resulting impact could be more benefit to individuals and whole social groups than whole reams of legislation and social programs have ever achieved. Combining literacy of both words and numbers provides the foundation on which socially disadvantaged groups and individuals can raise themselves from the various types of poverty they find themselves in.

With such knowledge, they reduce their dependency on others, on society and on their government. The outcomes from this can appeal to those on both sides of the political divide. Finally a bi-partisan initiative that can be a force for good whatever your politics.

If Political figures are still wondering what’s in it for them it this. Many talk about the need to do something worthwhile and to leave a legacy for their time in public service. Many get sidetracked and bogged down as the cause they see so worthwhile is opposed throughout their political careers This saps their willpower to get it done and they become a shadow of the person they set out to be in public service. By embracing this cause which can find support on both sides suddenly the opportunity exists to create a political legacy that can redefine the future not only of individuals and of social groups, but of whole nations.

A brighter future exists with action from our politicians and public servants. They just need to rewrite their to do list so that Financial Literacy is on the top.

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