A little while ago, I complained that folks were not paying attention to my profound and brilliant analyses of subtle arcane questions, hem hem. Several folks responded by commenting on my profound and brilliant analyses of subtle arcane questions, and what did I do? I ignored them. Not so good.
Actually, I am going to respond, but things have heated up at Bennett, and what with this being the final days of the presidential campaign, I have been distracted. My apologies. I will attempt some responses in the next day or two.
Meanwhile, just a thought prompted by a TV ad. Back when I was a youth, there were no credit cards, except for the expensive and rather rare American Express card with its hefty fees. Folks paid cash. Many stores featured what they called "layaway plans" that allowed consumers to put down a little each week or month on a big ticket item [washing machine, icebox, sofa] until they had paid enough to take the item home. There were Christmas Clubs into which you could pay a little each week against the once-a-year expense of holiday presents for the kids.
Things began to change in the fifties and sixties, with the appearance of Mastercard and Visa. [Indeed, for a long time, some establishments refused to accept the older American Express card because it charged higher fees to merchants.] All of this pretty much passed over my head until one day in the late 60's when I was lying on the analyst's couch. In those days, my first wife, Cynthia, and I lived in Morningside Heights half a block from Columbia, where I taught. Cynthia was teaching at Manhattanville College in Westchester County, north of Manhattan. We had an old blue VW bug which we parked on 115th street at night and which she drove to her job each day. The bug was pretty reliable, but it developed its own bug, and I took it into the shop. Since Cynthia had no other way to get to work, I had to rent a car, and the rental office required me to put down a $50 security deposit before they would release the rental to me [$50 in those days was the equivalent of about $300 today.] I was complaining about this to my analyst, a strict Freudian who rarely said anything, when he broke his silence to ask, incredulously, whether I did not have a credit card. I went right out and got one.
The prosperity of the next forty years was built on the easy availability of consumer credit, which had the economically beneficial effect of converting stocks into flows, if I may use the slightly technical jargon of the Economics profession. Like cellphones, which in the lives of many have replaced landlines, credit cards and debit cards have replaced cash for ordinary Americans.
This morning, as I was watching the devastation of Sandy and its aftermath, I saw an ad for a bigbox store in which happy customers were embracing a new layaway plan as though it were a hi-tech innovation of the smoking twenty-teens. I cannot think of a more poignant symbol of the destruction of working class and middle class financial security in the United States as the consequence of the financial crisis and predatory exploitative practices of the rich.