Monday, September 15, 2008


You have to hand it to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. On a day (September 15) when the Dow Jones dropped more than 500 points, Wall Street began to triage the survivors from a weekend massacre, and nervous money skittered around the world in search of a safe haven, Treasury chose to announce the launch the following day of a new campaign “aimed at combating the issue of financial illiteracy among young adults.” The aim is to “teach young adults about credit.”

Tellingly, Treasury is conducting its multimedia, bilingual campaign in conjunction with the Ad Council. The latter presumably knows a thing or two about how less than fully literate Americans of all ages were duped into sub-prime loans they could not afford, into investing in securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac “backed by the government,” and into zero-interest balance transfers from one credit card to another – with a lead balloon attached. Yes, they should know what they’re talking about.

Now I have nothing against financial literacy among young adults. Seems like a splendid idea. My question is when will Treasury launch a financial literacy campaign for:

• the surviving Wall Street hot shots to ensure that, MBA or not, they might never again be so blinded by greed as to repeat the foolish Ponzi-schemimg of this decade?
• America’s credit-card gougers so that they might learn that jacking interest rates on struggling customers only helps top hurtle them toward bankruptcy?
• America’s off-shoring multinationals so they might learn how to make a profit without accepting huge bribes in the form of subsidies, targeted tax holidays, and undervalued currencies?
• the budget experts at the Office of Management and the Budget to ensure that they might finally produce balanced budget proposals without accounting gimmickry?
• the members of Congress who collectively seem to have no clue as to how they or the country might live within their own means?
• high government officials and so-called experts who argue that deficits “don’t matter,” because we can always borrow more?

I could go on, but you get the point. Nothing against financial literacy for the few, but dare we stop there? If the US and the world economies are to be righted any time soon, we need a crash course in adult literacy for Wall Street and Washington, starting at the top.

Charles Blum

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