08 September 2014


I have always had a strong principle against getting into debt, as had my parents.

The accepted attitude towards being in debt changed abruptly in 1945 after the Second World War, and this was obviously an important element in the oncoming ideology.

In the modern world, nominal loans are often made, with little or no expectation that they will ever be repaid. Perhaps this is considered to be less insulting to the recipient. When I was a poor student, with no grant and not even a small salary (and not in receipt of any state benefit), people sometimes offered me loans of this kind, seeing that I was short of money and with no real expectation of repayment. These I never accepted, although I would have accepted an outright gift. And now I certainly would not accept any gift of money if I had any reason to think that the donor regarded it as a loan.

In general, my associates and I are too aware of the existential uncertainty to place themselves at anyone’s mercy by getting into debt.

Not only do people offer gifts as if they were loans; they also ask for gifts as if they were loans. When one of my colleagues was at school, a rather demoralised working-class friend quite often asked her to lend her something, which she did, but without expecting to get it back – and she did not ever get it back. She never asked for it back, and regarded these ‘loans’ as outright gifts as soon as her friend asked for them.

Nowadays being in debt, rather than having savings, increases eligibility for benefits. This is rewarding irresponsibility, and hence penalising responsibility. As Polonius in Hamlet (c.1601) says:
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.