The motto of American Express, familiar to millions, used to be Don’t leave home without it. Now it’s Don’t live life without it. While not quite a bait-and-switch, the new motto does resemble a sleight of hand. At one time, home was the domain of family; there were boundaries between the home and the marketplace. Now it’s all one and the same ostensibly due to the internet, but advancements in technology are not to blame for the erosion of the hearth. Behold trickle-down theory in practice: hardly a distribution of money but most certainly a dissemination of values.
I have an American Express card and at times find it useful. But life-defining? The presumption, indeed the audacity of this idea makes me want to do away with my Visa and MasterCard as well. But is this course of action even possible?
In today’s digital society cashless transactions have become the norm, and in some situations cash is simply no longer accepted. Yes, one always has the option to pay with a debit card, but in that case one is still reliant on a banking institution to act as a middleman for each purchase. How many people carry only a debit card anyway? The country by and large runs on credit. Hence the growing and arguably neurotic importance of one’s credit score, not to the mention the catastrophe of identity theft.
Without the ability to borrow money, even for one billing cycle, our economy teeters; it is not strong but our banks are powerful. Although American Express is known for its iconic green, gold, and platinum charge cards whereby the balance must be paid in full every month, the company can at its discretion “offer flexible payment services that extend payment on certain transactions.” After all, they also issue a variety of credit cards bearing their distinctive name and logo. So in addition to collecting a fee from merchants who accept the card, American Express can also collect interest from its card members.
This is of course standard practice in the industry, and American Express is just one of many card issuers. Nevertheless, their new motto might have a few people wondering: Can we live without credit, and if not, why has the cost of living become so high?
Meanwhile, perpetual indebtedness suits banking just fine. If the whole thing collapses, there’s always a bailout funded by taxpayers to reinstate the status quo. So the motto Don’t live life without it sends a message of self-preservation to consumers while in reality furthering the self-preservation of banks, or, an industry run by a select group of the nation’s wealthiest individuals.