There's something rotten on Sesame Street. And it ain't Oscar's garbage can.
"One of the best things about being around preschool-age children," gushes Ron Lieber in the NYT, "is that they are a blank slate awaiting your imprint."
Or perhaps the imprint of Visa, HSBC, and Wells Fargo.
In an article archly titled, "Too Young for Finance? Think Again", we are informed by Lieber that it's time for America's toddlers to "think hard about money." And why? Well, because irresponsible little people are likely to grow up into spendthrift adults. Bite-sized lessons, outlined in cute storybooks and videos, sound straightforward and wholesome enough: Save. Spend. Earn. All together now!
But who exactly will be teaching Little Jimmy the joys of fiscal responsibility? The very people who brought you the financial crisis.
That's right. The campaign to teach economics to tots comes courtesy of a group called the JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, which describes itself as a D.C.-based "non-profit organization of organizations that share an interest in advancing financial literacy among students in pre-kindergarten through college." Peruse the website, and you will find that the folks behind JumpStart share a very significant interest: Nearly everyone listed is either directly or indirectly involved with Big Finance. We're talking giant banks, mortgage financiers, and credit card companies.
What you will not find on JumpStart's board or list of partners is even the usual ceremonial window dressing of representatives from labor or consumer advocates. There is one person listed associated with the Consumer Federation of America, but this pathetic nod is hardly a counterweight to the entire banking industry. Where is Elizabeth Warren, for example? Not here. Nor is anyone identified with criticism of the banks and financial firms that have bilked consumers, raised fees, and nearly tanked the global economy. Are preschoolers really supposed to learn about financial responsibility from the Mortgage Federation of America? Obviously, the logic is to start 'em young before they have had any real contact with these paragons of fiscal virtue. And before their brains are properly functioning.
Lieber begins his article with the #1 lesson that the financial sector has been pushing ever since the meltdown. The crisis really wasn't their fault. It was ours. And that means you, Little Sally, with your greedy, ice-cream coveting ways. "In the wake of the financial crisis," writes Lieber, must come a "realization that individuals share at least some of the blame for the bubble." What's needed, says Lieber, are "better habits from an earlier age" that will help kids grow up responsibly.
"For Me, For You, For Later" is the title of Sesame Street's package of videos -- offered free at banks around the country! -- that will encourage anklebiters to forgo that ice cream and donate cat food to a local shelter instead. Very nice. But coming from this gang, perhaps a more appropriate title would be"For Me, For Now, Forever." It could include lessons on How to Indenture Young People Through Student Debt. Or How to Make Families Homeless Through Predatory Mortgage Lending. And the biggest lesson of all, How to Defraud Your Neighbor and Not Go To Jail.
In its crusade for fiscal values, JumpStart Coalition has enlisted Sesame Street to use the popular character Elmo to urge children to create three special jars labeled "Spending", "Saving", and "Sharing" into which they drop their pennies. But it forgot a very important jar. "Stealing". Because that's how many of the firms represented by JumpStart have made much of their money.
So how does Sesame Street, beloved of educated parents everywhere, get into the game of pushing the financial sector's fiscal ABCs? It just so happens that Joan Ganz Cooney, one of the founders of Sesame Street, is married to Blackstone Group billionaire Pete Peterson, the former investment banker and conservative who has been spending quite a lot of his own money to push the destruction of Social Security and Medicare through his Peterson Foundation and convince us all to forget the lessons of Macroeconomics 101 on deficits. Being married, of course, is not a crime. But here's the smoking gun: Muckety.com reveals that Cooney also serves on the board of the Peterson Foundation.
Frankly, this whole thing reeks worse that Oscar's garbage can.
Lynn Parramore is the editor of New Deal 2.0, Media Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute fellow, co-founder of Recessionwire, and the author of Reading the Sphinx.
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