Son, you’re eight years old now, and you’ll probably hear this soon enough from the other kids on the playground anyway, so I might as well tell you. Santa isn’t real, the Tooth Fairy is imaginary, and there’s no such thing as the “invisible hand of the market.”
Why did your mother and I lie to you? Well, we didn’t so much lie to you as tell you stories that were untrue, stories that we hoped would add magic to your childhood and also reassure you that capitalism is a good and fair system for everyone, instead of one in which some people can’t afford insulin while other people are Jeff Bezos.
And the thing is, back when Mom and I first told you about the invisible hand, we actually believed in it ourselves—not as a real hand, of course, but as a metaphor for a fundamental principle of economics. The principle I naively thought would save us when I got laid off, but then our mortgage went underwater, and it turned out that not one of Mom’s 223 Facebook friends wanted to get in on that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity she was pursuing at LuLaRoe.
Back then, there was a lot we didn’t understand. We didn’t know that capitalism is a morally bankrupt system that leads to mindless consumption, exploitation of workers and the environment, and—in your mom’s case—the extreme embarrassment of asking her parents to buy fifty six boxes of leggings with only one leg hole.
In those days, we wanted you to have candy cane dreams of Santa, glittery fantasies of the Tooth Fairy, and feel enchanted by the idea of a disembodied but invisible hand that gently nudges supply when demand rises and gently suffocates supply when demand falls.
What’s that, son? The hand gave you nightmares? I’m sorry to hear that, although it does explain why you used to wake up in the middle of the night screaming, “The fingers! They’re unregulated!”
It’s clear your mother and I made many mistakes. Still, we honestly believed that you would understand and feel comforted by the idea that a system based on each person exclusively pursuing their own selfish economic interest would somehow ultimately ensure the greater good. I realize now that this sounds batshit crazy, but it sure made us feel better about voting for lower property taxes while sending you to private school. We only did it because we wanted you to have every chance to one day achieve the American dream.
How did we scrape together your tuition while I was out of work? We turned our shed into an Airbnb, our mailbox into a FedEx dropbox, and unloaded those additional twenty-eight boxes of leggings with the feet sewn closed on some unsuspecting rube on eBay.
Look, here’s the unvarnished truth. Capitalism is corrupt, craven, and continuously enriching the mega rich, further impoverishing the poor and incessantly squeezing the middle class like a python wrapped around the abdomen of a cute furry little animal. No, not Mr. Whiskers specifically, son, some other cute little animal. One that we never met.
In fact, just try to erase that whole python metaphor from your brain before bedtime. Your mom needs sleep so she can get up early for her second job at DoorDash. In another three months or so, she can finally pay off those other thirteen boxes of leggings with the irregular crotches.
But no matter what Mom and I thought before, we can’t avoid the truth any longer, not now that our retirement is shrinking, our savings account is empty, and that iceberg broke off from a glacier in Greenland, caught on fire, and is headed straight for the Eastern seaboard. You’re right, son, ice isn’t usually flammable. I see the three years of private school education are really paying off. However, in this case, ExxonMobil was involved, and that changes the rules for which natural disasters are possible, just like the Supreme Court changes the rules for what giant corporations can get away with. And that, my son, is capitalism.
So now you know the truth. You’re really growing up. Do you have any more questions? Maybe it would help to hear more about what’s really at the North Pole or what your mom and I do with the teeth we take out from under your pillow. Or perhaps I could read to you from The Wealth of Nations? I promise to be completely open and honest with you, no matter how hard it is.
What’s that? Is the American dream really attainable for anyone? Go ask your mother.