Inside Brett Kavanaugh’s personal finances: Credit card debts and a $92,000 country-club fee

Kavanaugh has reported credit card debts that exceeded $15,000 for six of his 12 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. At the end of 2016, those debts ranged between $45,000 to $150,000 and were spread among three credit cards, before being paid off sometime last year.

There was never a hint of anything irresponsible about anything that he did,” said Bob Bittman, a Washington lawyer who worked with Kavanaugh in the Kenneth W. Starr-led independent counsel’s office. “But apparently he was in debt. I believe it was temporary or there was a plan to get out of it, or he was going to be repaid by friends. He’s not the type of guy who does things to keep up with the Joneses.”

.. The same year he accumulated the highest debts of his judicial tenure, Kavanaugh also joined the Chevy Chase Club — an elite country club that counts Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. among its members and, as of 2017, required a $92,000 initiation fee and annual dues of more than $9,000.

“It’s a place where your children can be on the swim team, learn to play tennis and play in an ice hockey league. It’s a family-focused environment,” said Helgi Walker, a Washington lawyer and friend of Kavanaugh’s who also belongs to the club.

..  “Certainly living in the D.C. area there is a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality. People who you may think are quite wealthy based on their spending or how they carry themselves are not actually that wealthy. And it all comes down to, are you continually saving?”

.. Several friends of Kavanaugh described him as frugal.

.. At the same time, as Kavanaugh established his legal and family reputation, he went about adopting the trappings of a 1-percenter — and accumulating large amounts of debt in the process.

.. The same year he became a judge, Kavanaugh and his wife purchased a $1.2 million home in the Village of Chevy Chase Section 5

.. Despite living in a top public school district, Kavanaugh views the price tag of a Catholic education as a necessary expense, those close to the family said. He has publicly said that his Catholic school upbringing played a significant role in shaping his values.

Why Don’t Americans Save More Money?

Maybe the only way to make people richer in the long run is to take their money away from them.

In 2008, several researchers studied the stereotype that minorities spend more than whites on “visible goods”—like clothes, shoes, jewelry, watches, salons, health clubs, and car parts. They discovered that, even after controlling for income, minorities save less than whites and spend more on such conspicuous consumption goods. But the story wasn’t just about race. White people in poor U.S. states spent more of their income on visible goods than whites in higher income states.

.. One possible explanation is that people spend more to signal that they’re not poor, Megan McArdle suggested. “If you’re a member of an identifiable demographic with low average incomes (southern, racial minority, rural) you are likely to be treated as if you are poor,” which makes it harder to get both social respect and work, she wrote. In a perfectly homogenous country with all white people, there would be less reason for the poor to signal their wealth with expensive visual cues, since they already look just like the rich. But in a diverse country where some demographic groups are stereotyped as poor, lower-income people might be more likely to pay for clothes and cars that say “I’m not who you think I am.”

.. They even discovered a positive relationship between the income of the state’s richest households and the number of personal bankruptcies in that state.

.. The American middle class made up for decades of flat wages with debt. But the last two studies offer a cultural explanation. Minorities and poor whites have spent more to signal that they are not poor, while Americans in general have spent more to signal that they are just like the rich.

.. A college graduate at 29 is 30 percent more likely to be married than a peer who never finished high school. That helps to explain why nearly 60 percent of first births in lower-middle-class households are now to unmarried women.

.. The lottery is a $70 billion government-financing initiative disproportionately funded by the poor.

.. But it’s not clear that higher earnings will necessarily lead to wealth creation for the poor. In the 1990s, after all, rising incomes were plowed into homes that eventually destroyed the savings of many poor and middle class families.

.. In a world obsessed with the wizardry of behavioral nudges, perhaps policymakers should consider putting away the magic wand and just do the paternalistic thing: Force people to save more, by expanding Social Security or by creating new forced savings policies.