Did 9/11 cause the economic crisis?

August 11, 2011

There have been plenty of arguments that 9/11 led to the wars, or that our fear of terrorists led to us to vote opportunist politicians into office, but I get tired of people blaming the government for all our problems.

Wars and politics aside, I wonder if we allowed subprime mortgages, Bernie Madoff, predatory lending, and corrupt banks to survive because of 9/11.

The terrorist attacks were a tragedy, to be sure, but a tragedy which ushered back to life an era of fear and suspense, the greatest sales tools known to man. It was a sales opportunity like no other, in that nobody knew what they were afraid of. It was Muslims who carried out the attacks, but there are too many Muslims within our ranks to turn them into enemies. What’s worse, it was too difficult to convince Muslims to disavow their faith. It was easy to fear communists—if one did know of a communist, if you could convince them to wave an American flag and vote in November you’d have a moral victory giving you a sense of safety for a while. We tried to get the Muslims to disavow themselves, but got a resounding “fuck you, we didn’t do it.” Then it was us waspy Americans who were left with a decision—profess our hatred for all Muslims, or decide they weren’t the enemy. Some chose the former, but for the most part, too many Americans had a friend named Ahmed for the culture war to really develop teeth.

So instead, we blamed a lack of privacy. It wasn’t a rational decision, and we didn’t come to that decision ourselves—we were given it, by people who knew how to make privacy profitable. The enemy became anyone and everyone who wanted our information. We guarded our credit cards, stopped answering our phones, and refused to give anyone our social security numbers. We paid for people to purge our names from the internet. We protested social websites who posted our information every time we clicked ‘post.’ We blocked advertising companies and market researchers from finding out where we shopped and what we bought.

For many industries, it was a dream come true. If they could dangle a carrot in front of us just long enough to let them into our lives, they could eat us away from the inside, and nobody would ever find out because we wouldn’t let anyone else in to see what they were doing. Credit card companies started charging enormous rates and fees. Mortgage lenders sold us houses we couldn’t afford. Stock brokers put our money into fake assets, and nobody saw any of it happening because we wouldn’t allow anyone to check them out. The giant corporations actually got us to fight on their behalf, getting us to revolt against any effort to investigate their records, lest some unknown enemy get a hold of the bank account number they set up for you and use it to fly a plane into a building.

That’s my theory, anyway.

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On Boycotts

July 29, 2010

I’ve been sent two articles in particular this week from several sources– one is a call to boycott Target because a congressman who opposes gay rights has received some of their money; the other is a call to boycott Home Depot because they support community organizations who champion gay rights.

Do we still not get why our economy is so ass backwards? I’m aware of boycott charges against WalMart for using evil business practices, or Starbucks for being too aggressive, or Hallmark for monetizing our culture. I get those boycotts. But to infuse politics into two of the most apolitical organizations out there is ridiculous. It’s selfish, it’s egomaniacal, and it’s just plain mean.

There are certainly times when a company has a definite political bent. Don’t forget that NewsCorp and Universal are both businesses. Whole Foods made that whole weird stink last year about health care. There were a few companies in 2008 who got in trouble for telling their employees how to vote. Those are times when one might be expected to reach out to their local companies and say ‘cut it out, or I’m taking my business somewhere else.’

Target, though? Target has a rating of 100% from the HRC. They have very progressive hiring practices, and even if they didn’t, they have no record of any unfair business practices, which is exceedingly rare for a budget chain. Now they have donated money to a pro-business PAC, which has donated money to a pro-business candidate for Governor of Minnesota (they’re based in Minneapolis), who among other things is a very religious man who opposes gay rights. Target has already come out in an attempt to be perfectly clear—no, they do not agree with the candidate’s view on gay rights. Yes, some of their money did make it to his campaign. But they donated the money to an organization which has a reputation of helping businesses. They’re a business.

Home Depot’s connection to this ridiculous charade is that they have but up promotional booths at gay pride parades, and put on workshops for children. In other words, they’re advertising at a place where there are going to be a lot of people who see their name. I give you a guarantee that Home Depot also has tents in many more festivals which have a more chauvinist, homophobic slant, but not because it has anything to do with politics—a majority of do-it-yourself, lumber and power tools type customers have a more conservative slant. Now Home Depot—who, incidentally, have a less than impressive score of 85% with the HRC—are being boycotted as gay-lovers.

You know who’s getting business out of all this, who’s benefiting from this culture war? Competitors who have done nothing for anybody. That’s the message we’re sending to these companies. Keep your advertising to billboards and obnoxious television commercials. Don’t support any causes. Take all that extra money and just funnel it into your stockholder’s pockets.

Your decades-long track record means nothing to us. If you do one thing we disagree with (and both companies are patronized by both ‘sides of the aisle’), we’ll drop any support for your store. So just don’t bother. Let’s go back to an age of huge companies with no social responsibilities at all.

The only solace I have from all this is that the same knee-jerk reactionaries who call for these boycotts also lack conviction. They’ll be shopping there again soon enough.