The United States is a large and still very rich country, but the informational and philosophical distance between the general public and their elected officials is growing—and becoming frightening—just as the distance between the rich and the poor seems to only get larger. There is no simple way to fix our considerable financial problems, and there is no simple way to communicate those problems. In other words, in the long run, American consumers need two things: more financial education—a lot more; and a lot less apathy. Thankfully, the newly-minted Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a strong mandate to promote financial literacy education to the general public. What the Bureau and everyone else needs to understand is that financial literacy involves more than learning how to balance a checkbook or understanding what APR means—particularly in times when financial matters dominate the headlines. In addition to the microeconomics of personal financial management, the electorate needs to understand enough of the macro to figure out who's doing what to whom, to not become numbed by those big numbers, to get through the political spin that accompanies every announcement from Washington, and to learn the lessons provided by history and events in other parts of the world.
Once upon a time in America, Greek was routinely included in the curriculum of a liberal arts education. Today, we don't necessarily need to speak the language, but we do need to better understand what's happening in Greece. It has become our civic (another Greek word) duty.
Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.