January 20, 2008
How many Americans can actually afford The American Dream?
In this LendingTree.com commercial, we the viewers are introduced to Stanley Johnson. He’s living the American dream, with a nice family living in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. He has a nice new car. He plays golf. Stanley’s life seems pretty sweet. “How do I do it?” he says, then answers: “I’m in debt up to my eyeballs!” He goes on to confess, his smile never slipping, that he can barely pay his finance charges.
The commercial is a few years old now, I think. Its message, essentially, is that if you shuffle your debt around — get a bigger loan with which you can pay off other, smaller loans, credit cards, etc. — you’ll be better off. As one of millions of Americans currently carrying more debt than I’m comfortable with, though, I can’t help but wonder how we got into this mess in the first place. I think Ed at Gin and Tacos (which I keep wanting to call Gin and Juice — I got my mind on my money and my money on my mind) gets it spot-on in his post entitled “What is terrorism?”:
Unfortunately I think this [i.e. predatory lending practices] is just the first step in A) an ugly economic downturn and B) a reckoning for 30 years of attempting to maintain the “American dream” of home ownership in the face of falling real wages and disappearing middle-class jobs. Remember when Carter gave his infamous “We must lower our standard of living” speech and was practically drawn and quartered? Well, 30 years later “we” don’t have to do anything – it has been done for us. When real wages don’t increase and when good jobs are replaced by Wal-Mart style employment ($7/hr, no benefits, no pension) the only way to keep the dirty common folk from….well, getting pissed….is to create the illusion of wealth through credit. Sure, your wages are shrinking, but here’s a couple of credit cards! That’ll make up the difference. We know you’ll charge more than you can pay back, but it’s alright. Just make minimum payments for 30 years. At 20%.
Indeed. The whole post is a worthwhile, if depressing, read.