GDP and Childhood

Gary Ruskin gary@essential.org
Thu, 11 Jan 2001 15:06:53 -0500


Commercial Alert				January 11, 2000

Following is an article by Ralph Nader in the Nov/Dec 2000 issue of
Mothering Magazine.

http://www.mothering.com/nader.htm

GDP and Childhood 
By Ralph Nader

Parents have growing concerns about the commercial influences upon their
children these days. And rightly so, given all of the violent
entertainment, and the ads for beer, cigarettes, and junk food that
besiege young people from morning to night. What parents do not realize,
however, is that the nation's economic experts regard these influences
as progress. To them, our children have become a kind of fodder for
America's economic machine. 

Consider: which would be healthier for American children today -- to
converse with their parents, do homework, and play outside, or, while
eating junk food, to play video games and see a violent movie? Most of
us would probably choose the first, but if you're an economist or a
corporate executive, the answer would probably be junk food and video
games. 

Why would anyone want children to see violent movies instead of spending
time with their parents? Why would the commercial media applaud when
this occurs? The answer is, of course, money. Children don't spend any
when they talk with their parents or do homework. But when they spend a
lot to see a violent movie or pig out on junk food, that's good for
business. 

It is also good for the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Economists and the
media have enshrined this measure as the benchmark of America's economic
health. The entire political establishment, from the president on down,
uses the GDP as the barometer of whether things are getting better or
worse. Increases in the GDP are seen as economic progress. Decreases
become economic disaster -- "recession" or worse. Much of our national
economic debate revolves around the GDP. But when you cut through the
mumbo-jumbo, a simple fact emerges: what the GDP counts as good can
really be bad. 

The commercial state of childhood in America is a sad example. It has
become largely a multi-billion dollar state of seduction and buying,
dedicated to increasing the GDP. Advertisers continually barrage
children with ads with the aim of turning them into demanding demons
until their parents give in. This corporate sowing of intrafamily strife
is misery for parents, but it's great for the GDP. The more corporate
advertisers turn our children into product-obsessed little nags, the
more the nation's cash registers ring, and the more the newspapers
herald the juvenile market's "stunning growth." The economic bean
counters break out the champagne as advertisers drive another parent to
exhausted desperation. When kids gorge on junk food, demand big-dollar
sneakers and pants, gobble up CDs and videos, the GDP takes a big leap. 

Those ads have side effects as well. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, an expert
in the psychology of mayhem, has linked violent entertainment -- in ads,
video games, and the like -- to school shootings. Big business is
deliberately desensitizing children to violence and pain. Of course,
this creates work for child psychologists, grief counselors, along with
orders for much equipment such as metal detectors, which are another
boost to the GDP. 

These problems cascade upon one another, in chain reactions of social
problems and economic gain. When Anheuser-Busch uses child-enticing
cartoon images of frogs and the like in Budweiser beer ads, they lure
young people to drink beer, which probably contributes to more car
crashes, date rape, and eventually to alcoholism. Car crashes alone are
a $100 billion industry in America, and treatment for alcoholism adds
billions more. 

When McDonalds and Coca-Cola saturate children with ads, they sell more
Big Macs and big Cokes. Childhood obesity goes up -- records show that
America has the fattest children in its history. No problem. We'll just
give them some pills and counseling and that will make the GDP go up
some more. The dental industry gets a big boost as well. So while
parents fret, the experts cheer. A nation obsessed with the GDP starts
looking at its children mainly in terms of how much money they spend.
Children become resources to mine and sales quotas, not young beings to
nurture. 

Even schools have enlisted in this gold rush. Channel One is an
in-school marketing company that uses a so-called TV news show as a
come-on to get about eight million children to watch ads each school
day. Children become a captive audience for ads showing expensive
sneakers, junk food, and soda pop. That's what is called "education"
today, and there's a grim candor to the whole situation. We are tossing
children and childhood onto the bonfire that keeps the GDP warm. But the
business media looks at the result and gushes at the economy's upward
path. 

It's time for reporters and experts to stop parroting narrow-channeled
economic textbooks. They need to develop better indicators of economic
performance that don't portray the impairment or destruction of
childhood as economic gain. We ought to treat the sale of addictive
products like cigarettes to children as costs not gains to the economy.
Childhood obesity, hyperactivity, the corporate sowing of strife in the
home should similarly be subtractions from the nation's economic
performance, not additions to it. It's time to get our nation's economic
indicators straight -- and protect our children from corporations that
prey on them for profit.

<----article ends here----->

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Gary Ruskin | Commercial Alert 
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