One of my cousins recently attended an event at a suburban church and I tagged along. I’m amoral and omnivorous. I’ll go to any house of worship on the odd chance I might actually learn something useful – and I often do. And I meet a lot of really nice people along the way. But mostly I like to explore the landscapes other people inhabit. Church provides an intimate glimpse into what people are thinking and feeling in a particular location.
I was immediately impressed with how much this church looked and functioned like a shopping mall. The size, shape, and general construction of the buildings and surrounding parking lots were indistinguishable from a large retail center. I spent more time than I probably should have trying to figure out which denomination it was. Catholic? Definitely not. Lutheran? Not exactly. Baptist? Meh. Mormon? Nope. It was a generic all inclusive Christian arrangement that celebrated the lack of any specific affiliation. Come and worship. We take all kinds. And enjoy the ample free parking and food court while you’re here. There was a well populated Christian school, a substantial auditorium, and all manner of programs and facilities. It was a highly successful suburban version of Big Box Jesus.
The event my cousin was attending wasn’t strictly religious in nature. It was more of a collection of speakers who each preached a version of financial independence with a Christian slant. The majority of the attendees were suburban women like my cousin looking to start or improve an independent business venture.
Is the city paying as it goes for infrastructure with funds set aside for maintaining and replacing all the pipes, pumps, and pavement when they wear out? Are pensions fully funded? Will this development pattern generate enough taxable value as it ages to support and maintain all the critical public infrastructure of schools, police, and fire protection? I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the municipal finances of towns all over the country for years. They’re all functionally insolvent beyond a certain not-too-distant point.
What all these practices and institutions need – what they can’t function without – is constant growth based on ever more leverage and debt. This can’t go on forever. Sooner or later there’s going to have to be a day of reckoning when the whole house of cards comes down. If I were a religious man I’d start praying right about now. Instead, I actually do what the preachers say. Pay cash, live below your means, save for the future, and opt out of the situations that trap you in a dysfunctional living arrangement with no future.