On Cynicism and Truth

I received the following in a chain email letter today which got me thinking:

Subject: Economic Stimulus Payment…

Below is some helpful advice on how to best help the US economy by spending your stimulus check wisely:

  • If you spend that money at Wal-Mart, all the money will go to China.
  • If you spend it on gasoline it will go to Hugo Chavez, the Arabs and Al Queda.
  • If you purchase a computer it will go to Taiwan.
  • If you purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala (unless you buy organic).
  • If you buy a car it will go to Japan and Korea.
  • If you purchase prescription drugs it will go to India.
  • If you purchase heroin it will go to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  • If you give it to a charitable cause, it will go to Nigeria.

And none of it will help the American economy.

We need to keep that money here in America . You can keep the money in America by spending it at yard sales, going to a baseball game, or spend it on beer (domestic ONLY), or tattoos, since those are the only businesses still in the US.

There’s the message in all its raw glory. I’ve decided to dissect it line-by-line to figure out why people are so compelled to keep passing it on to each other. Here goes…

If you spend that money at Wal-Mart, all the money will go to China.

Go to Wal-Mart or any other major retailer, pick up a box at random and read the label. It is nearly impossible to find one that does not say “Made in China”. Wal-Mart is indeed complicit along with our entire retail economy which includes us as consumers. We are all responsible to decide how much of this stuff we need, and when it makes sense to boycott or buy based on location of manufacture. Also, we need to recognize that a good portion of the money we spend at Wal-Mart goes to American employees who deserve a comfortable living wage. So if we’re to get upset about Wal-Mart, let’s keep our focus on how they treat their employees, our neighbors.

If you spend it on gasoline it will go to Hugo Chavez, the Arabs and Al Queda.

First, America produces around 40% of its gasoline [1] and 80% of its natural gas [2]. Second, in a free and open market we buy petroleum products from Middle Eastern and Venezuelan-based businesses. We do not send Chavez or Al Qaeda personal checks. So can we please stop the non-constructive fear mongering and focus on the real issues at hand? In my view they are i) the need to create energy solutions and alternatives that drastically reduce America’s strategic dependence on foreign oil, and ii) the need to properly account for the true cost of oil, including subsidies paid to big oil, military and security costs, and healthcare costs related to pollution. The true cost of a gallon of gas is much higher than we’ve allowed ourselves to recognize.

If you purchase a computer it will go to Taiwan.

Taiwan and China are likely to get hardware dollars. California and Washington are likely to get software dollars. Madison Avenue gets paid well for marketing computer products. American authors write and sell technical books about computers. American professors teach computer-related subjects in major universities and community colleges. Computer training and support come from a variety of American and international sources. The computer industry is indeed global, with opportunities for Americans and non-Americans alike.

If you purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala (unless you buy organic).

Buying organic should not be relegated to parentheses, and it’s in our own best interest to buy as much food as possible from sources within a 150-mile radius of wherever home is. Let’s be selfish for a minute. Beyond all the philosophical arguments, organic, locally-produced food tastes better and is less likely to hurt us. Buying locally is obviously easier to do in some regions than others, but I am constantly amazed by the diversity of locally grown and produced foods when I travel around the country.

If you buy a car it will go to Japan and Korea.

We’re seeing an American automobile industry that for too long has been protected from within. This is painfully obvious when the Big Three auto execs fly into DC separately on their own private jets to request a handout. Ouch. I’ve written previously about our present opportunity to open up auto industry bailout dollars to all qualified American manufacturers; not just GM, Chrysler and Ford. If Tesla Motors has a better idea, let them have the money and access to employees that GM lays off. This will stimulate the domestic industry, and certainly give GM a much louder wake-up call than simply handing them a big check. It’s also worth noting that Japanese and Korean auto makers employ thousands of American workers in American factories.

If you purchase prescription drugs it will go to India.

I believe this is another truly global market like computers (see above).

If you purchase heroin it will go to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

This doesn’t dignify a response. Why even bring this up in the context of making American manufacturing better? Jingoism and drug wars are legitimate topics for another time.

If you give it to a charitable cause, it will go to Nigeria.

Erik Lacitis reports [3] that recent donations to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy totaled $668,207.88, the best ever in the fund’s 30-year history. In hard times, people tend to recognize the importance of giving more, not less. And when people fall prey to Nigerian scammers, it is usually out of fake promises of easy money (greed), not charity. Here’s another bad case of cynicism I’m afraid.

Hence my question. When do we as a society say enough? When do we stop calling America a land of only bars and tattoo parlors when we know better? (How many of your friends work in a tattoo parlor?) When will we have an allergic reaction to chain mail like this and stop it cold, rather than nonchalantly passing it on? Digesting shallow humor takes about 30 seconds. Can each of us spend just five minutes to understand the facts behind what we’ve read, so we can all work together on solutions? This blog entry is my attempt to nudge us ever so slightly in a new direction.

References

  1. http://www.newsweek.com/id/177437
  2. http://www.eia.doe.gov/basics/quickgas.html
  3. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008746380_needy15m.html

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