Politics

Photo of the Day: Remember When Ads Tried to Get You to Spend?

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This ad is so bad it makes teddy bears commit suicide.

Zombie Abraham Lincoln and a possibly unwilling bride wearing a painful look of forced glee we haven't seen on a woman in a billboard since Newport cigarettes stopped advertising are here to teach a lesson that used to come naturally to Americans: If you save your money instead of spending it, you'll have more money.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has been publicizing this none-too-complicated lesson in economic disequilibrium for a few years, but these hard-sell wedding day billboards have recently been cropping up everywhere. The one above towers above Los Angeles's once-trendy Melrose Ave., just to bum out shopping hipsters and purveyors of skinny jeans. 

The Ad Council, clearly phoning this one in, put together the campaign for AICPA's Feed the Pig campaign, which features a video spot from horrifying spokessaver "Benjamin Bankes." Bankes himself is an avatar of the "financial literacy" movement that has been rocking the U.S.A. for a decade or so now and is a favorite cause for frauds like Elizabeth Warren and Jump$tart Coalition founder William Odom. 

These folks are really doing the lord's work. Saving money is way complicated, and the tips they give are, like, Talmud or something. 

From the Feed the Pig web site: 

  • Don't go to an ATM that isn't owned by your bank.
  • Avoid Appetizers; or, if out with friends, consider splitting one.
  • Balance your checkbook frequently to avoid overdrafting.

From 360financialliteracy.org:

  • Help put money away for college funds or your kids
  • Pay off your house early

From the Jump$tart Coalition: 

  • START SAVING YOUNG 
  • STAY INSURED 
A dream to some….A NIGHTMARE TO OTHERS!

Man, who can keep all that stuff in his head at the same time?

The folly of financial literacy has nothing to do with insufficient federal education funding, or not enough "plain English" prospecti, or the machinations of Madison Avenue captains of consciousness. The problem is that the actual creators of our money are doing everything in their power to prevent saving.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, recently praised as a "hero" on the cover of The Atlantic and lauded within its pages as the savior of the global economy, is hilariously described in this BusinessInsider post as a "deeply conflicted, but unfathomably human character" who is at the same time a "pillar of strength" and a "veritable messiah of fiat currency," yet still humble enough to be "buoyed when strangers stop him in airports to offer an encouraging word." 

That's all nice to know, but Bernanke's incompetence has not just generated a half-decade of economic stagnation. It has made it impossible to teach the simple savings tips outlined above to the pre-adolescents who might actually benefit from such lessons — as I have learned to my chagrin

We've clearly turned some corner in the dumbification of America when ad campaigns stop trying to pry us from our natural thrift in order to encourage spending, and instead try to put across thrift as a novel and exciting concept. But the issue isn't that we lack financial literacy. It's that our actual experience of the dollars in our pockets is teaching us all the wrong lessons. 

And no, I don't know what the hanged teddy bears (which I've seen recently in both Virginia and California) are supposed to mean. But it can't be good.