Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bailout III - Revenge of the Myth

“I don’t care about losing all the money. It’s losing all the stuff”
-Bernadette Peters (as Marie) in “The Jerk.”

Once upon a time, I went for a happy hour with a co-worker, Mike, and a friend of his whose name escapes me. His friend was from Finland (probably why I can’t remember the name) and made his living as a flower sales rep, pimping his wares to greenhouses and garden stores throughout Minnesota. He seemed to enjoy his job and definitely loved living in America. Mike had to leave early, leaving the two of us to engage in further libatious conversation. I was amazed by the Finlander’s frankness regarding American consumerism, listening to him count off all the expensive items he wanted to own. I politely asked him why he needed all these things. Giving me a confused and slightly offended look, he stated, “There are all these things out there and I just have to buy them.” Sometimes those who learned English as a second language are the ones who best utilize it.

Our government’s latest bailout, credit bank giant Citigroup, should come as no shock to those who have credit cards and enjoy the second Great American Pastime, shopping. Most of us have one credit card, perhaps several, maybe even a dozen. Full disclosure: I have three: Target, Sears and a Citicard. Check your wallets and purses, kiddies. Bet you have at least one of these, too. With the holiday spending frenzy quickly approaching, the cards will be processed more often and faster than an Alaskan turkey.

The never-ending quest for more stuff has ballooned into a true main street crisis. Many consumers possess more credit card debt than they could ever hope to pay back. Quick Adam Koeppe Simple Math: If your credit card balance is over $10,000 with an interest rate of 20 percent or more – THIS IS YOU. Some bank, such as Citigroup, is responsible for this lending and also for absorbing the outstanding balance. Even with their finances in disarray, Citi will still lend us more money so we can purchase Holiday necessities like ginormous Plasma TV’s, fake plastic rock n’ roll games and the all-new Antichrist Elmo (Elmo turns into the son of Satan with just one button – it’s so cute!). How can Citi, or any other credit bank, manage to do this even with the knowledge that some cardholders cannot pay them back? I talked to one of my trusted economic advisors, Mr. Wizard the Lizard, who transported me to the place with all the answers.

Imaginationland! Where everything is possible but nothing is real! A magical place where you can go to the mall and have it all! Lions, tigers and even man-bear-pigs, perch on the shelves, ready to fly – oh my! Your biggest wishes can come true, if you have a plastic, golden ticket ready to use. There’s no limit to what you can get: a purse, a socket set, a diamond – even your own personal jet. Trinkets, chocolates, booze or a cruise; if you sign that receipt, it’s yours to use. Don’t worry, it’s all covered under the plastic sun. Decorate your room anyway you please. Stock your refrigerator with imported Blue Cheese. The only limit is your personal desire. Roast marshmallows on a digital fire. It’s easy to keep up with the Joneses. Get a new car, a boat or even a goat. Fall asleep and dream in a bed filled with roses.

Drizzle drazzle, druzzle drome,
Time for reality to come home.

Imaginary money runs out. There is a limit to the amount of cash the banker can lend you in Monopoly. If you mortgage all your properties, you are done if you don’t make it past “Go!” Citigroup and potentially other credit lenders were unlikely to survive if they landed on “Boardwalk” or “Park Place.” Like many Americans, they became overextended. If the wizard behind the curtain has no money, he can grant no wishes. So we (taxpayers), are giving money to a credit bank so we (taxpayers), can buy more stuff we can’t afford. Welcome to Ironyland.

It’s time for us to channel our “inner Linus” and realize what life is all about. It isn’t about big trucks (even though they rock), videogames (I own hundreds), or the hottest trinket of the day (I pre-ordered it on Amazon). Life is about the things we cannot buy. Love, friendship and happiness cannot be rented. Either you have it or you don’t. Whether you have all the money in the world or not a dime to your name, if you have these things, they can never be taken away. It is a myth that we need all this extra stuff to survive. Sure, a personal plane would be awesome but nobody really needs it. If you can afford it – great. If you can’t – don’t pretend. If you can pay for sushi – eat up. If you can’t – chow at McDonalds. If that’s out of reach, there’s always cooking. People used to do it back in the Stone Age. Look around your home. What do you see that you really need? Personally, I can count four things: my kids, my wife, my friends and my memories. For a little while, let’s discard the myth of more stuff and focus on what’s real. Let’s be thankful. Let’s be brilliant. Let us all be loved.

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