When you think about it, credit cards are pretty much the embodiment of unbridled capitalism. They’re a form of currency designed solely to cater to consumer culture. They not only allow you to spend, they allow you spend beyond your means. And once youve overspent enough, even your debt can be sold off and purchased by another collector, because thats just how the free market works.
You know who wouldn’t want anything to do with credit cards? Karl Marx. The godfather of communism spent his entire adult life rallying against just the sort of bourgeoisie consumerism that credit cards encourage. If you havent had the pleasure of reading The Communist Manifesto in its entirety, this quote should give you a good idea of his sentiments: The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.
And yet, in perhaps the most ironic promotion of the decade, Marxs likeness is now plastered front and center on a German banks newest piece of plastic.
Last week, the Sparkasse bank in Chemnitz officially issued a MasterCard featuring a photograph of a bronze bust of the German-born philosopher. Though it might seem like an odd marketing gimmick, the image of Marx was actually chosen by the banks customers. Earlier this year, Sparkasse held a vote to decide on its next card design, and more than one third of its customers chose Marx. Marx crushed the alternatives, a castle, a palace and a racetrack.
As sales have shown, the card itself is proving to be just as popular as the image. According to Sparkasse spokesman Roger Wirtz, Weve even received inquiries from clients in western German states asking whether they could open a local account with us to get a card bearing Marxs features.
Chemnitzs history explains Marxs overwhelming popularity there. Before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Chemnitz was a part of East Germany, known colloquially as The Communist Germany. Though the city was demolished in World War II, it was then rebuilt as a beacon of socialism. Consequently, images of Marx could be found everywhere. He appeared on 100-Mark banknotes, and a 23-foot-tall bust of the man watched over the center of the city.
Though the bust still stands today, time hasnt been as kind to the rest of Chemnitz. Like many cities in Eastern Germany, Chemnitzs economy began to decline after the collapse of communism. It entered a significant depression, and its population shrunk by 20%. Industry moved out, unemployment rose and many of the neighborhoods are now crumbling thanks to five decades of poor or nonexistent maintenance.
For the people of Chemnitz, these recent troubles have created a sort of whimsical nostalgia for the past. Not for communism exactly though there are still many communists living in the East but simply for a time when things were better than they are today. A time when everyone had a job and access to welfare. As Forbes contributor Tim Worstall put it, My general impression is that people are quite happy to think of the past warmly, remember the good and gloss over the bad. But almost no one actually wants to go back to anything like the old system.
Taking that into consideration, a credit card seems like the perfect place for Marxs likeness. Its harmless and controversial, symbolic and ironic. The card can mean whatever you want it to mean, and thats what makes it cool. We would even get one ourselves if we could, mostly so we could tell cashiers, From each according to his ability, to each according to his rewards points.
Besides, castles are totally cliché.