Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Our Changing Economy

OK. So like everyone else, I hear all about the terrible lock-up in the financial markets. A few weeks ago I was ready to believe this was it, the moment of change, that cataclysm I'd been expecting since I lived in Southern California 3 years ago and used to tell people I felt like I was living in Enron (a collective delusion about how things would just keep getting better, housing values would never drop, and we'd all make tons of money forever and ever). It was all collapsing. We'd have to change our ways. And fast. Like, by Friday. We'd have to start living off our cash-at-hand. We'd have to reckon with our debt.

Then this past Saturday after grocery shopping (no problem paying with my VISA ATM card) I stop at Kohl's. I had to buy some socks. While I was there I bought a gold-plated chain for this pendant I have and would like to wear sometime... and how could I resist, because it was a $55 chain for $13.75. Ah, Kohl's, the store that gives things away. So there at the jewelry counter with the socks (30% off, so I was getting several pair of them too) and my gold chain I'm asked as I always am: "Do you have a Kohl's card?" No, I don't. I really really try not to have more than one credit card, though I haven't been that successful, and it's true, I have three.

I said no, and that I didn't want one, and the woman was aghast. "But we're doing scratch-offs." Meaning using their credit card I'd get a scratch-off and could save up to 30% more on the spot. "Don't you want to get valuable coupons in the mail every month-- twelve times a year, plus the added in-store discounts?"

I said OK, and she put a keypad in my hands, and had me swipe the one credit card I had with me into it. All my info was instantaneously downloaded. Instead of that old application we used to have to fill out for credit cards, I now keyed in my date of birth, social security number (ah, I can feel my identity theft quotient go up as I type), and gave the woman my phone number and driver's license. I signed the top of one sheet of paper while she was entering my driver's license number ("Wow, you're fast" she said to me when she saw I'd signed on the proper line and written in my name and the date correctly). And the keypad spit out a paper telling me I'd just been approved for $1,500 in debt. Yes, Kohl's, knowing virtually nothing about me, was willing to on the spot give me a $1,500 loan (plus the 15% off on that scratch-off card-- which meant the gold chain was now not 75% off but 90% off).

But I thought no one could get loans anymore. I thought everything was frozen. How can this be? I thought there was going to be no more debt. Someone on The Listserv whose husband works for a big brokerage in Washington, DC, said that everyone needed to go get a month's worth of cash out of the bank right now because the ATMs wouldn't be working by the end of the week.

But I'm telling you, the word had not gotten to the cashier or the managers at the Kohl's in Waite Park, Minnesota. They were begging me to let them lend me money. They were luring me in with scratch-off cards and the promise of deep monthly discounts.

And though I'd resisted for many dozens of trips into Kohl's before, for some reason this was the time I folded and said yes. Give me the scratch-off card. I want to see what I've won!

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