The great restoration

Quietly but decisively Americans are trying to restore the moral norms that undergird our economic system.

The first norm is that you shouldn’t spend more than you take in. After an explosion of debt over the past few decades, Americans are now reacting strongly against the debt culture. According to the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll, three-quarters of Americans said they’d be better off if they carried no debt whatsoever. Not long ago, most people saw debt as a useful tool for consumption and enjoyment. Now they see it as a seduction and an obstacle.

By choice or necessity, eight million Americans have stopped using bank-issued credit cards, according to The National Journal. The average credit card balance has fallen 10 percent this year from 2010. Banks, households and businesses are all reducing their debt levels.

Second, Americans are trying to re-establish the link between effort and reward. This was the link that was severed on Wall Street, where so many made so much for work that served no productive purpose. This was the link that was frayed by the bailouts, when people who broke the rules still got rewarded.