The stimulus check shell game

You’ve got to hand it to Madison Avenue; in response to the coronavirus pandemic American corporations have barely missed a beat in altering their commercial sales pitch, reassuring consumers that this unpleasant shopping hiatus will not last forever and that a return to fevered consumption is just around the corner.

Televised commercials featuring middle-class families gazing out their front windows while waving to their neighbors, or happily preparing food and eating together around a table in the kitchen are combined with comforting voice-over narration gently foretelling of future fun and adventure when all this inconvenient, coronavirus social distancing stuff is over. Of course, advertisers never mention the coronavirus by name, the evil that cannot be invoked out loud. Instead, oblique references are made to our present situation of isolation, combined with attractive incentives to purchase luxury vehicles online offering deferred payment plans and “hands-off” delivery.

The same “untouched by human hands” approach is being used to sell pizza, gutter-protectors, and drug store deliveries. The underlying message is “despite this pandemic, keep buying; everything is going to be alright.” The old normal is being sold as the new normal, namely consumerism is what life is all about. The voice-over tells us, “now’s the time to appreciate and support each other,” but the real message is, “don’t worry; your buying frenzy will soon return.”

It’s difficult for me to accept the false sincerity of money-hungry corporations pushing easy credit and hyper-consumerism; it is precisely such activity that’s killing our planet. Although the words sound reassuring, they are deceitful; rampant consumerism is destroying our planet’s precious natural features – unspoiled habitat, forests, fresh water, wildlife and clean air – while at the same time producing massive waste and pollution. Meanwhile, many millions of people are trapped in permanent poverty.

Our American economy only works well for a small percentage of people; those in the top ten percent are doing fine while the other ninety-percent struggle to make ends meet by living paycheck to paycheck; or jobless, the very poor rely on charity, food stamps, welfare or crime. At the same time, it is the ninety percent who through their efforts support the comfortable lifestyle of the ten percent.

Instead of an economy built on values of thrift and caution, ours is built on greed and instant gratification. Savings accounts benefiting from compound interest have been rendered quaint and essentially useless as interest rates have dropped to nearly zero. At the same time, speculative stock market investment gets all the attention, although the ninety percent do not have the money to participate in Wall Street’s game at all. In short, the income inequality in America is the greatest it’s ever been.

This pandemic has suddenly produced the modest ripple of a seemingly non-capitalist money give-away, but by any standard what’s being made available to the ninety percent is small potatoes. And it’s clear by the latest smooth-talking commercials that corporate America has its greedy eyes on these “stimulus” checks. In the end, I am afraid it will all amount to yet another rip-off as ordinary citizens are persuaded by deceitful advertisers to spend their money on yet more stuff citizens don’t need, on liberal credit terms, no less. In this respect, it’s a rigged shell game, and as usual Madison Avenue is the corporate street hustler emptying pockets with a seductive sales pitch.

2 thoughts on “The stimulus check shell game

  1. Today systems theory is on my mind. Large complex systems such as capitalism or the US Govt. really do not have much ability to change. They take on a life of their own and rumble on growing in what ever ways they find nourishment. The only way such systems change is from an external agent. Perhaps, this pandemic will be the agent that will cause many great systems to change?

    1. But, Michael, if a guy like Trump is prepared to break all the rules and norms, and not be held accountable by his GOP senate and house cohorts, the system can in fact be quickly unwound and altered. The slowness of government has actually been a benefit, preventing improper and hasty change based on impulse. Trump’s rampage has demonstrated that convention and assumptions of decorum are not enough to preserve our democracy.

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