Two of the most popular people attempting to advise Americans in this time of economic insecurity are Oprah Winfrey and Suze Orman. They seduce us in trademark “sister-girl” tones to convince us that they are just like us---only richer. We follow their advice to dump debt, while secretly hoping for keys to a new car taped under our seats. More than working on our self-esteem so that we can attract more money, what we need from Oprah and Suze is context for how money really works in America, the truth that the jobs that propelled our parents into middle class status are not coming back, and the advice that our time might be better spent talking to Grandma who survived the Great Depression. “Emotional spending” is a real issue for the families who took up Oprah’s Debt Diet, but it is not a disease, as Dr. Robin Smith, another Oprah expert, declares. The real disease is the delusion that middle class families can turn the US economy around by embracing spending plans. Folks, a spending plan is only as useful as the cash you have coming in and Oprah’s Financial Gurus rarely suggest that we take a closer look at the cost of propping up capitalism, the ultimate Ponzi scheme.
There are huge emotions at play when it comes to money management. As a mental health professional, I specialize in “fiscal trauma”: a state of chronic lack that results in emotional consequences including depression, anxiety, fear, and confusion. Americans are also seeing a new type of financially traumatized citizens: the formerly upper-middle class who are downsized into near poverty, but still cling to luxury vehicles, private schools and expensive vacations until the last nickel of their severance packages are spent. Since no- and low-wage earning Americans are not included in Oprah’s financial discourse, we cannot benefit from their knowledge of the social, economic, and political forces that create and maintain a reservoir of poor people.