CURRENT ACCOUNTS: March 1980
Getting them young
The line between education and indoctrination is sometimes a fuzzy one. Take the seemingly innocent puppet show now making the rounds of New York City grade schools, sponsored as a public service by the Dry Dock Savings Bank.
The protagonist is Dollar Billy, a young buck who is thinking of quitting Bank School, where he goes “to learn to grow and be of greater service to the community.” But before he can quit, he is kidnapped by the Miserable Miser
. The story ends happily, however, when Billy escapes and returns to Bank School. The moral, according to the lesson plan given out to teachers: a savings bank is a “nice, friendly, safe place where your money grows and grows.”
Some people might see this fable as little more than a sales pitch for savings banks, and — given inflation and interest rate ceilings — a misleading one at that. Dry-Dock offers no apologies. Says Emil Gerhard, one of the bank’s vice presidents: “If Dreyfus feels the kids should know about money-market funds, it’s up to them to put on their own programs.”
Darren Jones, age 17, and Rob Hartwig, 18, are two students from Woodstock, Ill. who did not learn about banks from a puppet show. Rather, they attend one of the many high schools in the country that now offer consumer affairs courses, and there they were told that a check does not have to be written on one of those colored pieces of paper issued by banks. Anything can be a negotiable instrument, as long as it has all the usual information, including an account number, and a signature.
To put what they’d learned to the test, the two boys took a 25-pound, four-week-old pig from Darren’s family’s farm and made it out for $5. At the First National Bank of Woodstock, they handed it over to teller Mary Ellen Burg. She shrieked — and cashed it. The pig was marked “paid” and sent back to the farm.
The Canadians showed a certain flair for guile when they smuggled six Americans out of Iran last January. Further evidence comes from Montreal, where the Holt Renfrew department store until recently was selling $25 silver medallions as gift certificates. According to the Financial Times of Canada, a man went to the store last December to buy 20 of them as Christmas gifts, and he noticed that each coin contained nearly an ounce of silver. He had read in the paper that day that silver was trading at $24 an ounce in U.S. dollars, which is $28 in Canadian money. “So as calmly as I could, I told the clerk 1 could use more. There were 167 of them and I bought them all,” he says. Over the next 10 days, he quietly bought up 1,273 more in Montreal and in Holt Renfrew’s Toronto store; he didn’t want to arouse suspicion, so he got friends and relatives to do a lot of the buying, paying them a commission of $10 per coin. Since then, the man has sold 1,085 of his coins to dealers for $40 to $52 apiece, and has made a profit of $10,552 in Canadian money. He says he’ll hold on to the remaining 355 coins as a hedge against inflation.
You normally associate down payments with houses or cars, but now inflation has boosted something else into the ranks of things you have to pay for in installments: meat. James Stephens, a carriage-trade butcher in Washington, D.C. who claims Congressmen among his clients, has begun requiring $5 and $10 deposits on orders for standing rib roasts, legs of lamb and whole tenderloins of beef — cuts that now can cost from $24 to $80 or so apiece. Most people who put money down are having meat cut to order, says Stephens. But some pick out a piece that’s already cut and trimmed, leave a deposit and pay the balance when they pick it up a day or two later. It’s probably the first layaway plan for food.
While economists don’t agree on what causes inflation, a fair number hold that deficit spending and expansion of credit have been major factors. The Carter Administration has been mindful of the deficit-spending problem: next year’s budget predicts a gap of only $16 billion, compared with $40 billion in the current year. But the government is letting the credit reins slacken ever so slightly. This year, for the first time, buyers of copies of the 636-page budget, which cost $5 each, can use their Visa or Master Charge cards.
Shop two three four
With stocks, an orderly market is what you have when price changes are small. In Panama, an orderly market is what you have when a general is in charge.
After the U.S. gave the Canal Zone back to the government of Panama last fall, a lot of Americans stayed on to perform technical jobs. But these civilians, who used to have their own supermarket, now must shop at a commissary run by the U.S. Army, and they aren’t happy about it. Many object, for instance, to the one-way aisles with arrows painted on the floor. Then there’s Command Policy 092, which, among other things, instructs patrons to “maintain positive control over their dependents” by seating children 10 years old and younger in shopping carts.