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Euphemistically Speaking

By       Message Michael Fox     Permalink
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Call me old-fashioned, but there is no such thing as a financial product. Nor is there such a thing as an insurance product. Recently, Progressive Insurance (or their ad agency) seems to have recognized the inherent silliness of the usage, and are running a commercial in which they sell insurance “products” in boxes. They are, of course, services, accounts, policies and funds, but they are not products.

When I am waiting in line at the bank, why does the teller call, “Next guest, please?” I am not her guest; I am “next in line, please,” I am “next customer, please,” but believe me, I am only there to conduct some business, so I’m no “guest.”

I recently asked a teller why everyone is called “guest” and she said they were required to use that verbiage by management.

Words subliminally frame our perception, and American English has been carefully tweaked through our business schools and media to give the illusion of substance to our inherently insubstantial service economy as it replaced the traditional manufacturing economy. So as we transform the economy back to one that actually produces stuff, I propose that we revert to the words that describe the things we’re talking about.

Cars are products. The loan for the car is a financial service.

Financial services should exist to underwrite the production, marketing, sales, and purchase of products and realty. And there are no products we are more passionate about than cars (with all due respect to home appliances, have you fallen in love with a dishwasher?)

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Here’s another one: Grow… It’s a passive verb, as in: corn grows; children grow; business grows. In fact you can grow corn. But you don’t grow a child. Nor do you grow a business; you expand it, you increase it, you develop it. But in an environment that has placed no value on manufacturing and little on agriculture in the traditional sense, words that were previously used to describe our interaction with the substantive result of the labor and commerce involved in those pursuits were hijacked. It’s time to set them straight and restore our vocabulary – along with our economy.

We have the opportunity right now to start with the auto industry. GMAC, the financing arm of GM (and co-owned by Cerberus Capital Mgmt., which owns, amongst many other things, Chrysler), has applied to become a bank. This is a legitimate move, and will afford it access to the existing “Wall St. Bailout” funds, and therefore open up the spigot of cash to enable buyers to finance cars: Funding, financing, financial service.

Without filing bankruptcy, a matter discussed in this column in September, the auto makers can be forced to restructure by virtue of conditions imposed on them by Congress in return for the $25 billion they’ve requested. Under new management, they can return to the manufacture of everyone’s favorite products.

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Michael Fox is a writer and economist based in Los Angeles. He has been a corporate controller, professor, and small business entrepreneur. After a life-altering accident, he spent five years learning more about medicine and the healthcare (more...)

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