Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Trouble in the Garden of Liberty

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Trouble in the Garden of Liberty

Article excerpt

WHILE PURCHASING A slingshot recently, I began to wonder what message this might be sending to my credit card company, a business that pays special attention to my spending habits out of what I used to think was a deep sense of affection, or possibly love.

But it turns out they routinely monitor purchases to determine demographic tendencies for repayment. (Who knew? I thought they were just figuring out what I'd like for my birthday.)

This practice is known by many names: profiling, market segmentation, and Being Even Bigger Jerks Than We Thought.

Apparently, if you're careful with your money or seek value in discounted merchandise, you're not to be trusted. If you shop at Target or Wal-Mart instead of blowing your paycheck at an upscale jewelry store, the credit card company assumes you'll probably lose your job, miss a payment, or get into such a deep financial hole that the only fair remedy is doubling your interest charges. It's probably in the Bible someplace.

Credit card computers also note purchases associated with lower-income demographics, such as used motorcycle parts and generic soda, products I now only buy through a third party to mask my frugality. I figure if it works for Mexican drug cartels buying their guns in the U.S., it could work for me and my Econotaste Cola. (Actually, if drug cartels bought their guns from Nordstrom, they could get a lower rate on their credit cards, not to mention air miles to use for smuggling. With the new charges for baggage these days, it's good to know that the kilo of cocaine in your underpants won't trigger extra fees, although it may itch a bit.)


Apparently, to confuse the profiling computers you need to buy a couple things at upscale stores from time to time. Need batteries or a new American flag stencil (made in China) for your pick-up truck window? Buy them someplace cheap. But then grab a T-shirt on sale at Neiman Marcus. New biker tattoo? Get it at a parlor that has the word "salon" in the name, as opposed to, say, "Bubba's Piercing Shack."

And he alert for temptation. Traveling through Michigan I once saw a sign for Beef Jerky Outlets, probably a great place to stock up on healthy staples. …

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