2007-11-01 / Sam Bari

Happier holidays through leverage

You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

The World Series is over, Halloween has just passed, the football season is at the halfway mark, and the season 'tis upon us. Oh yes, Thanksgiving is just around the corner to officially kick off the holidays. But that is not news, and hardly significant when we think about the real issue and the real reason for the upcoming season.

This is the time of year when children learn about the world of finance through the concept of leverage, a practice that our society has developed into a fine art. From now until Christmas morning, beds will be made, rooms will be clean, clothes will be put in their proper places, and chores will be done - all in the name of equity in the gift bank. Make note - attitudes will improve, vegetables will be consumed, and bedtime and curfews will be honored, without prodding.

Occasionally, mothers might find the need to use little reminders like "Santa is watching you," to let little ones know when they have slipped in their diligence to be unnervingly good, so no points are lost during the checking of lists in the naughty and nice categories. The lyrics to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," will suddenly have importance and profound meaning.

We might say that the season of Santa is the time of year when children the world over are given a memorable lesson in investment, and the worth of good will to certain men, mainly Santa and all gift giving sources, dad included.

Nonetheless, we must be fair. Children are not the only ones who are easily bought by the promise of reward. We are all guilty of indulging in that shallow, yet very human trait. For the next couple of months, the work force will be putting forth, shall we say, a little extra effort, in anticipation of a generous holiday bonus in the pay envelope.

Dad might also find a few extra special dinners prepared with his favorite dishes when he comes home from a hard day at the office. And mom could be rewarded with some substantial shopping dollars that might be delivered with a little hope of some of them being spent on the source of the funds, to be polite.

Let's be honest, our intentions for the holiday season are self-indulgent, self-serving, selfish, and blatant efforts to maximize conspicuous consumption with impunity. That's why dad can't wait for his sons to grow old enough to want Game Boys and X-Boxes, all terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, and personal watercraft. He wants to buy those things he can play with too.

The only way the average adult male can possibly justify buying these really cool toys is to purchase them for his children. If he doesn't have kids, adoption would be worthwhile just to fulfill his need for a generation of playthings that he was denied because they were yet to be invented. And as long as the proper gifts for mom are beneath the tree, she will not say a word about her husband who never grew up.

An occasional shopping spree for a new wardrobe can easily be had for any woman by turning a blind eye to absurd spending and spoiling of offspring by jealous fathers. If that doesn't work, the old chestnut, "I just want to look beautiful for you, dear," can always be put to good use. That little sentence leaves men totally defenseless and has been known to render them speechless - a fine example of leverage at its best.

The success of American business over the last couple of centuries can probably be attributed to the noteworthy lessons in leverage taught to our children from an early age. Leverage is also the most significant contribution to why we, as a nation of consumers, have accumulated the highest amount of credit card debt in the world. So let's not break tradition. Spend until the cards melt. Our version of happy holidays through leverage will continue to be a major part of that system we can't understand.

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