You have your reasons, but I would disagree that debt is bad.. There is such a thing as good debt. I have good debt and debt I must have (Bad?) Morgtage and my wife's student loans are the only debt we have that we MUST have I guess... (she paid 80 grand to stay home if that is how you look at it...) the other debt is investment property (cattle, real estate... and other things) that are assets and generate us income...I use someone else's money to make myself money. That is why I don't see debt as bad and I NEVER will ever go completely out of debt, especially when I can borrow money for NEXT to NOTHING these days... That way when we are 50-60 years old we will have income coming from places that are entirely paid off and do not rely on the economy (stock market, funds, bonds, all that crap) I control it, not something else.
People have different attitudes towards debt and, more generally, toward risk.
Part of this, but not all of it, is due to their subjective determination of the probability of personal financial bad times. And the latter might be due, in part, to their age: older people have seen more friends and family come into unexpected personal financial bad times...made worse by debt. And, older people rightfully believe that, given their age, they don't have as much time to recover from bad times and, so, tend to shy away from the risks they might have found prudent when younger.
It might also depend on stories told to them by parents, etc, who did go through things like the Great Depression. The GD was a very different time and perhaps not relevant in many ways to today, but such stories of the harms befalling people who were in debt stick with a person.
(In other words, get off my lawn! )
Although I believe debt is bad, I agree with you that debt can be useful and sometimes even necessary, for instance to buy a house or to pay for school. But then my tendency is to pay off these debts ASAP. I prefer to be debt-free (as much as possible) and willingly have a lessor "life style" than I otherwise might have. (I drive a 1996 car and most of my clothes come from Target so I clearly don't have a need for a fancy lifestyle!)
Part of this is due to my being unfairly positioned in life: I don't need to take high risks (such as associated with debt-enabled investment) in order to life a decent life now nor to have a reasonable retirement income. I appreciate that other people do believe they need to take on more risks. It must be stressful for people who do this, though. Some have claimed that businesses and the government have, for a variety of reasons, increasingly shifted more and more of the risks of life onto individuals whereas in the past businesses and the government provided some measure of protection from risk for people. (So, for instance, defined benefit pensions have been replaced by defined contribution pension plans. I have a defined benefit pension plan and that is nice.)
Someone who borrows money in order to invest in, say, cattle is taking far more risks than I would find prudent, given my own subjective beliefs about the probability of bad stuff happening combined with the hard fact that debt is unforgiving in the short-run.
But I also do undertake what I think is prudent risks: my retirement money is almost 100% invested in stock index mutual funds, both domestic and internationally invested...and I'm not bothered in the least by the recent ups and downs of the stock market as I won't touch the money for many years. But investing in the stock market is different from taking on debt: bad returns in the stock market don't generally lead to harm today as what goes down today goes up tomorrow (unless someone is crazy and spends too much based on paper wealth) but a short-run decline in income can lead to major problems today if one has debt payments today that depend on a certain flow of income.
But...back to the original idea of the thread: in most ways the bad economy today is not nearly as bad as the Great Depression was. But, on the other hand, changes in the economy, culture, and politics in the US have made the current bad economic environment worse than it would have been, say, 20 years ago...and one of these things is the greater debt people took on over the past few decades (for a variety of reasons, good and bad).