Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Witch in the Wardrobe

If there is one trait in the American character shared by both rich and poor alike, it is greed.  It's two chief symptoms are delusions of grandeur and magical thinking.  It is delusional because the average member of the working poor is convinced that with the scratch of a lottery ticket their luck could change, regardless of statistics.  It is an understandable and forgivable daydream for those who languish in poverty.  But even among those without the means to buy a scratch and sniff, the disease abides.  For them, merely the possibility, however improbable, that they too could become fabulously wealthy inclines them against their own best interests.

This kind of thinking was made very real to me when I was young, in my high school history class.  Upon discussing the economic models of capitalism and communism, most of my classmates enthusiastically applauded the capitalist ideal on this very basis.  To them, the mere possibility of wealth, and the power and status that stems from it, was worth any risk.  This would be understandable in school children who have little knowledge of reality, except, that their parent's often appear to share the same views regardless of their greater contact with the "real" world.  But, just how real is that world?

In recent years there has been a trend in television programming.  With the rise of the, ironically termed, reality shows earlier in the decade, has come an even more popular genre, the, for lack of a better term, antique appraisal show.  It first came to wide knowledge in the U.S. with Public Television's Antiques Road Show, but has now spawned several imitators.  One of the more caustic is called Pawn Stars on the even more ironically named History Channel.

However, despite their different formats and settings, they all indulge the same aspiration of the viewer: that, at this very moment that old armoire of Grandma's, or that ugly little locket your great aunt left you on her death bed, may turn out to be the proverbial genie in the lamp, ready at a moments assessment to be cashed in for riches.

Such desperate thinking seems to illuminate the majority understanding of the veiled mysteries of money.  If only economics education were as appealing as the lottery, the dream of instant wealth might at last die the pauper's death it deserves.