Monday, January 12, 2009

The Glass Piggy Bank

As many who follow financial markets point out, the website of the Secretary of the Treasury has been one of the few good sources of information about where money from the huge economic bailout designed to unfreeze credit markets and prevent further economic instability spreading from the mortgage meltdown and large-scale investments in risky unregulated derivative products, such as credit default swaps. Transaction reports for the TARP or Troubled Assets Relief Program can be reached through the Emergency Economic Stabilization link near the top of the front page, and a map of where the capital purchase program is being implemented is also shown. Of course, financial journalists and university economists have been pointing out that this information also shows that much of the money that taxpayers are providing is going to healthy institutions that are often engaged in mergers and other forms of consolidation rather than the troubled institutions that the bailout was supposedly meant to serve. Also linked from the Treasury website is, a site from the federal government designed to promote "financial literacy" and better management of household finances at the level of the individual citizen.
The Treasury site also links to a Federal Trade Commission site for kids that offers the online game "You Are Here" to teach young people about targeted marketing. The game is set in a mall where the player is exposed to a number of pitches for trendy status products like cell phones or high-end sneakers. There are a few things worth noting about the game: 1) its praise of consumer choice and free market capitalism often seems to work against its point about the powers of advertising, 2) I couldn't help but wonder if the player's inability to get the section of the game with the anti-merger activist to work was an accident, and 3) the "game" is a disconnected set of experiences that often involve staples like matching games that give young people little access to the database, mapping, and simulation capacities of computational media for understanding the workings of government and other complicated systems.

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