Cosmetics and Ice Cream and Morals, Oh, My!

24 Sep

In doing research for my thesis — which I have been working on forever it seems like oh my god when is it going to end! — I came across this quote:

Americans spend more on cosmetics than it would cost to provide basic education to the two billion people in the world who lack schools, and Europeans spend more on ice cream than it would cost to provide water and sanitation to those in need… – Richard Peet with Elaine Hardwick, Theories of Development

Now I like ice cream as much as the next person (my stomach, sadly, is not a fan), and cosmetics less than your average woman but perhaps more than your average man, but, wait, what?  Really?!?  That’s crazy.  Okay, so usually I don’t like to put up quotations that are intended largely for shock value.  I always have this nagging feeling that there is something misleading in the comparison.  That somehow numbers on one end were inflated, and on the other deflated, in order to make a point.  I get nervous that a little Micheal Moore-ification (of the post-Roger and Me version) has occurred.  Also, it’s not like someone is gonna be like “oh, hey, rather than buy this $25 mascara I am going to donate it to the creation of primary schools in Liberia” or “Cherry Garcia ice cream?  Hell no!  More toilets in India!”  But then I shook my head and thought, whatever, stop being such an over-analytical, judgey cynic.   Just go with it.  So here is what I have been thinking about.

We are going through a campaign period here in the good old US of A and we all know what that means:  lots of money is being spent!  Especially now that Citizens United happened and now corporations* and unions can make all sorts of ENORMOUS donations.  Also, SuperPACs!  Scary!  And so here we are, listening to two presidential nominees talking about this big debt we are in and how it’s Obama’s fault!  No, Bush’s fault!  No, social spending!  No, the defense budget! No, because Romney didn’t pay enough taxes!  No, the old people!  No, immoral women wanting to abort their babies!  No, the immigrants!  No, that dead panda cub!  (I’m really sad about that, actually.)  And then I read about the amount of money Obama and Romney, and their supporters and detractors, are spending on their campaigns and I’m like woah.  I know that however much they spend would only be a drop in the bucket, but still.  One of these guys is going to lose and what will he have to show for the hundreds of millions of dollars he spent to try and get elected?  ThisThis?  A scrapbook?  Sadly, no.  One of them will be happy and the other will have a giant sadface surgically implanted where his old face used to reside.

But then I’ve also been thinking about this other thing which is the way that we all live our lives, myself included.  We live in a world where there is this overwhelming pressure to do well financially, to make money, to be “successful.”  As much as I personally try and fight against assessing my life in those terms, I still religiously squirrel money away in lieu of going to that BBQ, that birthday party, that camping trip.  There is something alluring about that sort of quantitative success.  I can track my progress.  But the question is, am I actually better off** than I was 7 years ago when I started saving?  I mean, sure.  I’m happier, I’m more educated, I have more concrete goals and interests, I’m a faster runner.  None of these things, however, are connected at all with the fact that I have more money in my savings account.  I mean, it’s great that I have the option to buy $25 mascara (or a new pair of running shoes) without doing too much “creative accounting,” in the words of a good friend of mine, but probably I would be better off with less defined lashes and a more defined sense of moral responsibility.

Or, I could just drive down the BQE and look at this billboard because, funny:

photo
*Corporations do not have blood and therefore are not people and therefore should not be afforded first ammendment rights.  QED.
** I am reading too much Amartya Sen.  Help.

2 Responses to “Cosmetics and Ice Cream and Morals, Oh, My!”

  1. creatingcarrie September 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

    I think we should make the Europeans take the first step on this one. Ice cream? Really? We could just scare them that they are slowly becoming gloriously fat, obnoxious Americans instead of average sized, judgmental Europeans.

  2. clashgasm May 27, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

    I have two comments about this.

    1. On Citizens United, I will throw the tiniest amount of salt and mention that I dislike the oft-parroted liberal simplification of the ruling as “corporations = people”. It’s a deep issue, free speech is a core value of this country for important reasons and rightfully extends in many circumstances to entities other than individuals. I do not want to live in a country in which the government can control all corporate speech and corporations enjoy no first amendment protection. That said, the court always has the ability to decide what level of precedent to set via either a broad or a narrow ruling. In the case of Citizens United, there could have been a more modest ruling that would have balanced the free speech rights of corporations against the need for free and fair elections, and would not be so definitive in greenlighting corporate election spending.

    2. I believe that the moral dimensions of finances is a super interesting issue. I think it’s especially pernicious that we are taught to invest by handing money over to managers who will take care of our investment for us, abdicating our moral responsibility to invest ethically. The money managers, in turn, have a fiduciary responsibility — legally enforced — to their investors to maximize returns, and thus there are large sums of money (~60% of the US stock market comes from institutional investors, like pension funds, 401ks, etc) being guided purely by return on investment and not at all on ethical grounds.

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