Young people’s money woes are down to lack of education,’ said a headline to
an article in the Observer of 30 March. Putting aside my dislike of the locution
‘down to,’ which strikes me, for reasons that I cannot quite explain, as
extremely vulgar, it occurred to me that most young people’s money woes must
surely be caused by a lack of money.
Perhaps not. There are people in the world, after all, who get into money
difficulties whatever their capital or income. In general, this kind of person does
not lack education, he lacks the self-control necessary to follow Mr Micawber’s
famous prescription for happiness. The problem is not one of education but of
The article states, in a tone of shock, that the financial education charity (yes,
you read it aright, charity) called MyBnk has discovered that 90 per cent of the
UK population have never had any form of money management lessons. This,
proposes the article, is why the British population have so pronounced a
tendency to go deeply into debt to purchase what they do not need and that is
worthless the moment it is bought.
This explanation for improvidence strikes me as rather like saying that sixteen
year old British girls have babies because they don’t know where they come
from. In my experience of such young mothers as patients, they may not know
the date of the Battle of Hastings but they certainly know where babies come
from. They want their babies, who are not, for them, a mistake.
The analogy is not quite exact with indebtedness, of course, because the
young indebted do not actually want the threatening letters and the bailiffs; but
they know that at the end of the day, to use a locution almost as vulgar as
‘down to,’ nothing much will happen to them as a result of their default, nor is
there any shame or social stigma attached to living above one’s means.
Certainly no government, or no public employee, feels such shame.
The article was a fairly typical example of the overestimate of the importance of
formal education by the over-educated. They assume that everyone can be
taught to behave in the same way that everyone, more or less, can be taught to
read. Prudence, providence and probity, however, are character and cultural
traits more than they are intellectual accomplishments. It is not that people
don’t know; it is that they don’t care.
“There are people in the world, after all, who get into money
difficulties whatever their capital or income. In general, this kind of person does not lack education, he lacks the self-control necessary to follow Mr Micawber’s famous prescription for happiness. The problem is not one of education but of character.”
I would like to observe that someone trying to pay a mortgage when they are employed at £250 per week (before tax) is not necessarily of deficient character because they are in financial difficulties. Modern employers pay as little as possible and employ their workforce on zero-hour contracts. It is not surprising that so many of my generation are struggling and our debts are not always the result of frivolity and lack of character. If your car fails its MOT and needs expensive repairs, you can’t very well apply the Micawber principle and simply stay away from work until you can afford the repair without using your overdraft.