The United States has been a major exporter of popular culture for decades. We see ourselves as well as an exporter of democracy. And the recent hopes expressed by young people of many nations shows that democracy, or at least self-government in some form, is an aspirational or inspirational export of our nation, a truly significant one. Yet we have also exported something more malign: a system of economic growth that depends excessively on consumer spending and consumer credit that is fueled by fraudulent (or at least poorly regulated) lending practices, including targeted lending at high interest rates to those unable (and so unlikely) to repay the loans. Those conditions produce a credit bubble in the economy. Like the exportation of infected beef, a tainted dependency on consumer demand has now infected Latin American nations like Chile and Brazil with the same disease that has sickened our economy: overspending, achieved through borrowing, which leads to perilous personal debt levels--much of it fueled by lenders who gain inordinately as long as they can keep the spending going and, they hope, the bubble from bursting.
In a recent article in the New York Times on the rise of consumer debt and abusive lending in Latin America, Alexi Barrionuevo quoted Lewis Mandell, a professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “They are learning every trick that was learned in the United States to make credit cards the most valuable part of the banking business,” Mandell said. “And unfortunately, the problems this caused in the United States are likely to repeat themselves in Latin America.” The result will also certainly be a weakened economy and future economic stagnation for those nations, unless the problem can be rectified soon.
Our nation’s influence in the “family of nations” is not always what we might wish it were—a transmission of all that is best in America. Instead, much of what is weak and self-destructive in our society also seems to be passed onto others. In a world made smaller by communications and globalization, infection spreads more quickly than ever.