I walked around a corner and an old man was sitting on a bus stop bench. The old man was more amazed to see me than I was to see him.
"Where are you from and who are you?" he asked me.
I told him I just sailed from Hawaii and asked him what happened, "Was there a plague? Some bacteria that only killed people, but spared everything else?"
He told me the following story:
"It all started years ago when I was young. A company invented the first boxed cereal– aerated, compressed flakes and called the stuff, ‘Bozo Flakes.’ Back in those days everybody used to eat healthy breakfasts: eggs, homemade bread, blueberry pancakes, fresh fruit. Bozo Flakes were utterly tasteless; no wonder no one bought Bozo Flakes at first.
"In those days advertising meant making nice labels for things or a simple magazine ad typically saying something like, ‘Enjoy Bananas!’ The Bozo Flakes people were nearly bankrupt. They got the idea to advertise like crazy. They hyped Bozo Flakes–we were the first country to have TV–like hell and millions of Pacificusians ate the garbage instead of healthy traditional breakfasts.
"They just didn’t say, ‘Bozo Flakes are delightful!’ They were the greatest thing on the planet. They said, ‘More vitamin C than an orange! More protein that eggs and bacon!’ Of course it was all lies, but suckers went for it. I remember on ad:
"A character with a white chef’s hat and apron came on the screen. He held up a box, opened it and poured brown flakes in a bowl. ‘Ah, exquisite! Bozo Flakes. Topped with fresh non-dairy creamer. Oui oui!’ He kissed his fingers and threw them in the air.
‘You can count on wholesome goodness in every Bozo Flakes’ box. Ve take ze dried grains and soylent mishmash. Ve squash and agitate it into a highly nutritious dust. Zhen vit a special process ve inject it and aerate it so zhat ze original grain content is re-pulverized and stretched out to accentuate ze flavor. Zhen ve fortify it with artificial vitamins to make it more nutritious than one hundred steaks! Mmmm! Zhat’s right! Aerated Bozo flakes vith ze famous sports star or cartoon character on ze box—-Be sure and buy zese fantastic, sweet sugarized chemically enhanced flakes.’
"Football star Brutus Bluberton came on the screen holding a Bozo Flakes box with his picture on it. ‘I eat this stuff all the time. Bozo Flakes are so vitamin charged that they energize me to kill the other team’s quarterback. That’s why I always win with Bozo Flakes!’
"Other companies caught on and advertised like crazy. It didn’t matter that no one needed the thing or the product lacked quality. You just needed to advertise and people bought it.
"An egg company said, ‘We don’t need to advertise. Everyone knows that eggs are a fantastic breakfast food.’ But companies who reasoned like that went bankrupt. Lots of eggs went rotten.
"Companies advertised plastic widgets with no apparent use for anything; miracle water that was just high priced plain water; pet rocks; plastic conversation pieces that were just expensive chunks of plastic; etc. They all made fortunes just by advertising. Then someone realized, ‘Why do we sell real products like food or machines when we can just get dirt, call it "Earth Meat" and advertise it? We can sell plastic machines that do nothing, but no one will care because we’ll advertise that it’s the greatest product ever made.’
"Eventually only companies that had a fortune to spend on brainwashing advertising were left. Some real product companies advertised. But if your competitor sold dirt coffee and you sold real coffee, the dirt coffee company, whose costs were lower, would undercut your price and drive you out of business. Everything stopped functioning because all the machines were plastic, just being passed off as machines. Cars, trucks, trains didn’t work. Food was all dirt. One company even advertised and sold invisible food: ‘The fantastic food that’s absolutely delicious and nutritious and doesn’t leave a mess! It’s non fattening and has no calories! There are no artificial preservatives or additives! There is just a label!’
"So what happened? People were only eating dirt and air and they couldn’t get from one place to another. Nothing worked except for TVs that continued advertising inedible dirt that tastes fantastic and is highly nutritious! Farmers went bankrupt because people ate little food. Malnutrition killed people by the hordes. Just a few of us are scattered about now. I attribute my survival to growing a backyard garden, fishing and never watching TV. I never could stand those Bozo Flakes."
"So how is this a parable for what’s happening in the world today?” continued Dr. Ziieegerstien. “First let us look at Japan and their ‘lost’ decade of the nineties. Japan’s economy got so everyone had pretty much what they needed. With excess cash the Japanese bought overpriced real estate much like Pacificusians bought useless crap. Then everything crashed. But in the 90’s to the present the Japanese still did OK. Their population didn’t increase, so why would they need more housing? By world standards the Japanese were pretty well off—what more crap did they need? So most Japanese didn’t buy much more crap, but economists saw this as a ‘lost’ decade because their economy didn’t grow.
“In the 2000s the US and much of the world has crashed after we have produced a shit load of plastic useless crap. General Motors and Chrysler are about to go bankrupt. Why? Hardly anyone needs a new car. Cars in recent years got built better and they are lasting longer. There are too many cars and more new cars are useless pieces of crap. Americans were able to buy useless crap like SUVs–that took real raw materials to make–because they had hallucinated wealth from jobs producing crap (for example in the financial industry), or from sucking hallucinated wealth from their overpriced houses. (Financed by Chinese and Saudi Arabians, among others, who sent the dollars we forked over to them back to us by buying US Treasury Bonds making the US debtors.) We confused economic bubble GDP for wealth– just as Pacificus’ GDP was higher at the height of producing dirt food than it was before Bozo flakes were ever popular for breakfast. Electric cars will be more efficient but the world may be too poor to buy very many now. Is the US government bail out money going for recycling useless SUVs and over-sized trucks into electric cars (or better yet trains), or will it go to prop up GM making more useless gas guzzling crap?
“It looks like third world people might be just as stupid as Americans and go for the useless crap of the car based world also instead of enhancing public transit and walkable societies. These cars will not be built in America until our wages are as low as they are in India and China. By the time that happens—and it could be sooner than you think– there will be major natural resource shortages. Even if the cars are electric just how much energy and raw materials are there? Probably not enough so that the Indians and Chinese can clog up their cities with more cars and make them even more unlivable.
“For the longest time we confused real wealth; healthy food, agriculture, savings from real work, well built homes, trains, energy like natural gas and oil, clothing, with plastic useless crap; Hummers, SUVs, junk food, financial derivatives like credit default swaps, the health insurance industry, etc.
“Will we, like the people in Pacificus, never be able to tell the difference between real stuff and useless crap?”