Many regard the 2008 bank bailouts as one of the greatest swindles in economic history. Others point to the necessity of averting a financial meltdown and full scale depression. Regardless of how one feels about the government’s handling of the crisis, one thing is clear: today’s financial institutions wield enormous power that extends beyond the boundaries of traditional nation-states.
The suspicion that plutocratic agendas have taken hold under the guise of democracy is by no means far-fetched. Corporations are being called into account, but as shelters for individual interests, they are withstanding the storm, or should we say the prolonged drizzle of criticism. Despite the decreasing standard of living for most Americans, the mercantile values that shape American culture remain intact. An advertising campaign launched by Chase Bank illustrates the resilience of the American Dream as “a total package” and simultaneously attests to the bewildering power of intellectual inertia.
“Chase What Matters,” commands the bold print of their slogan. Simple, clever, and audacious. Wasn’t this the mentality that fueled the home-buying frenzy and subsequent foreclosure epidemic? Haven’t we learned anything at all from recent history? Or are we ready to suck it up yet again? There’s something almost masochistic about our devotion to the good life, or should we say, to the people who promise it to us. In the event that we actually ask ourselves what matters, Chase tells us.
“Control Matters.” No doubt, coming from a bank! “24/7 Matters.” Naturally, when control verges on addiction. “Being Rewarded Matters.” Perhaps, but mostly to children. Have we ever been more distracted than we are today? Before words are even interpreted, images penetrate the psyche and contextualize the message. Chase gives us snapshots of marriage, family, comfort, recreation: a world full of smiles. It’s all rather sad. Tethering happiness to a bank account only empowers forces that reduce the likelihood of a more equitable society. Will we ever have the foresight to realize that what matters is not chased?
On a related note, JPMorgan Chase stock declined more than two percent last month as losses on bad trade estimated at six to nine billion dollars were disclosed. Might Chase eventually go the way of Wachovia who claimed to be “Guarders of Your Identity” shortly before becoming insolvent, unable to preserve even their own identity? Why do we continue to believe and empower these reckless institutions? Or does this question merely defer a more unsettling investigation? Do we really have a choice?