Super Bowl 2018 drew the smallest audience of any national championship game since 2009 but that didn’t quell the ruckus stoked by one of the mid-game ads. Listen carefully and there it was: Dr. Martin Luther King, pitching for trucks by RAM.
What next, muttered the critics: Rosa Parks shilling for Uber? James Baldwin hawking the Firestone next time?
What really got my goat - no pun intended - was fact that sermon in question was all about the dangers of hucksterism, extreme materialism and greed, and those - ahem- huckster leaders who use their power to drive people into desperation, and distract them from what’s really going on, in no small part by selling people things they don’t need and can’t afford.
Delivered fifty years ago to the day, Dr. King talked about people “taken by advertisers”.
Today it’s even more true than it was then. The money media’s obsessing over the stock market this week, but the real market’s what really demands attention.
There, household debt stands at a record high: just under $13 TRILLION. And the one area of consumer debt that really stands out are auto loans. The New York Fed estimates that 23 million consumers hold subprime auto loans, which are based on super low credit scores.
Like subprime mortgages, subprime auto loans aren’t made by traditional banks or credit unions, but by auto finance companies such as car dealers, reports the Fed, which is to say, hucksters. And one-fifth of those, or 20 percent are in default today.
Read that King speech in full - (Drum Major it's called) look it up. Don’t be taken in by advertisers, don’t compete yourself into greed and hate, and bankruptcy, he says. In other words, probably, don’t buy that RAM. But his bigger point is about extreme materialism, just one of the triple evils King was calling out in his final year. There’s something spiritually wrong, he said, with an economy that prizes things over people, and spends hand over fist on wars and ads when families can’t afford a car.
Whatever’s happening on Wall Street, Main Street’s in trouble. The same sort of trouble we saw just before the 2008 financial crash. In fact, family debt’s is up — $280 billion above its peak in the third quarter of that dangerous year. I suspect that that, not the Super Bowl fracas, is what we need to be paying attention to today.