Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Trillions in Debt, Can the Middle Class Hang On?

From AlterNet:

Some will argue -- with no empirical evidence, mind you -- that the culture itself is to blame. We have become a bunch of materialistic, Paris Hilton-loving deadbeats! they trill. Such was the argument the banks used to railroad bankruptcy reform through Congress a year and a half ago. If we accepted their argument and blamed the "gamers" -- the new welfare queens -- they promised us a dividend in the neighborhood of several hundred dollars apiece in the form of lower interest rates. Last quarter, these same bankers announced record credit card profits (JPMorgan Chase, the biggest, more than doubled their profits), but alas, no check arrived in the mail for you or me.

The "personal responsibility" argument, as it is euphemistically known, appeals to our love of false nostalgia if not history itself. It assumes that Jimmy Carter wasn't imploring us to cut up our credit cards three decades ago (he was); that the Me Generation never happened (it did); that the '80s was not the decade of greed (it was); or that, going back a bit further, the Roaring Twenties never happened (it did).

Click here for the rest.

Yeah, and the "personal responsibility" argument also assumes that there's no such thing as advertising. The materialistic culture of heavy consumption we now endure didn't just happen; it was consciously created. It's been a long time in the making, but Americans are pounded, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, from cradle to grave, by countless advertising messages, on TV, radio, the Internet, billboards, t shirts, signs (on everything from urinal cakes to grocery bags), in newspapers, magazines, at sporting events, virtually everywhere. I mean, it is almost as though consuming is the culture now. Like I said, that didn't just happen: over the last fifty years or so, business has literally altered our once thrifty, hard-working, savings-oriented point of view to this orgy of shopping that now defines us.

Given this brainwashing, I'm amazed that anyone at all is able to resist. When the credit card companies hand out applications to people, it's like throwing a match onto gas-soaked rags.