The concept of trust is getting a bad name of late. Will you ever look at a rerun of “The Bill Cosby Show” in the same way again? Will you ever look at all? Will Brian Williams ever have the same gravitas if he comes back to The Nightly News? Bernie Maddof, remember him? How about Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriquez, Marion Jones? How many politicians do you believe will fulfill their promises?
There have always been psychopaths and sociopaths, people with little or no conscience: also a group who know right from wrong, but let greed or revenge get the upper hand. Statistics would say that as our population grows, the ratio of honest folk to these bad apples stays pretty much the same, but, really, doesn’t it seem like there’s been an uptick in bad behavior, especially since our economy imploded in 2007?
What got me thinking about this was the news that in a recent investigation by the state of New York, about 80% of the health supplements found on the shelves of big box stores, proved to be nothing more than ground up rice, houseplants, hydrated vegetables and/or wheat. If you’re taking Ginko biloba to keep your memory sharp, ginseng to boost your energy, or Saint John’s Wort to ward off depression, chances are none of these herbs is in your system. You might think you’re smarter, bouncier or happier, but that’s called a placebo effect. Really, you are spending good money on less than nothing and that in itself is depressing. The trust that’s being broken here is as old as before snake oil, and the rationale is that you have no one to blame but yourself — “you pays your money and takes your chances,” but there is a more wicked scheme afoot here.
Americans spend $13 billion dollars a year on these products that we buy because they are hyped by various experts who may or may not be on someone’s payroll, and because we believe that in this country we can trust what the label tells us. The Federal Drug Administration requires that companies verify that supplements are safe and accurately labeled, but there is no enforcement. The industry supposedly runs on trust and that’s not a good way to manage anything where lots of money is to be made. Orrin Hatch, the senator from Utah has successfully kept any and all federal regulations of the supplement industry from moving forward in Congress. The fact that many of these manufacturers have headquarters in Utah, and that Hatch’s own family is involved with them, stands as a shining example of insider Washington wheeling and dealing. As I see it, people who buy supplements at Walmart, Target, Walgreens, etc are being cheated first by the manufacturers and then by the government.
As the number of dishonest folk increases and they come up with more and more insidious ways to lie, cheat, and steal the number of those who are naturally trusting seems to stay the same.
I put myself in this category. I’ve had my pocket picked, believed false promises, lost money to clever salespeople, and been taken in other ways over the years, but having lived as long as I have, I’ve become less gullible and don’t trust anyone without very good reason. However, I do use a credit card and my social security number is on file here and there. I think my passwords are clever, but I suspect a good cyber thief could make a mess of my financial life. Most of us who shop and bank in these times are at risk. The world is full of people who spend their time thinking of ways to take our money while we work hard trying to pay our bills. I can’t imagine that the world will become more safe or that the number of honest, hard-working people will gain much on the cheaters.
What can one do? The positive preachers would say we should all become more trustworthy ourselves, and set an example. Or we should forgive the cheats and liars and scam artists, try to understand them… Personally, I don’t find paying for ground up houseplants parading as anti-depressants understandable or forgivable. Maybe it’s time to stop being depressed by all this and do something. Don’t just sit there. Boycott those guys, write to your congressman, let the box stores know you feel cheated, find a decent politician to vote for, impeach Orrin Hatch!