Treasure Islands and Global Tax Dodgers
Beacon Press Authors on Earth Day

Some Tax Day Advice: Use Your Tax Refund for a New You

Laurie Essig teaches at Middlebury College and is the author of American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards and Our Quest for Perfection. Essig writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education's Brainstorm Blog.

EssigThe average federal tax rebate this year is around $3000. By now we all understand that there is no point investing that money in the national casino known as Wall Street. You could be fiscally responsible adults and take that money to pay off some debt, but that would counter the brilliant economic recovery policy first coined by George Dubbya after the 9/11 attacks: go shopping.

But shopping for what? How about taking the $3000 to spruce up the kitchen or go on a nice vacation? Not a bad idea. But perhaps an even better one is to invest in the most important thing of all: a new, more perfect you. In other words, maybe you should spend that tax rebate on some cosmetic surgery or at least some Botox?

As Joan Kron, a senior editor at Allure magazine told me when I was researching my book, American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards and Our Quest for Perfection

No one says you shouldn’t go to college because you don’t want to improve your intelligence. What’s the difference between a facelift and college? People know they’ll keep their jobs if they make themselves look better.

Of course, $3000 doesn’t go very far in the world of plastic beauty. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, breast implants, the most popular procedure for women, will cost you about $6500. A tummy tuck $8722. And a facelift a whopping $11,471.

Now you could do what many Americans already do and use that tax rebate to travel somewhere cheaper, warmer, and more willing to give you some lipo for a few thousand bucks. I’ve interviewed cosmetic surgeons from the Dominican Republic and Mexico who say their cosmetic surgery tourism business is busiest right after tax rebates arrive in the U.S. But there are obvious dangers to traveling outside the country for major surgery, like having complications later on that no US surgeon is willing to treat for fear of liability. Also, in terms of the Dubbyean economic policy of saving the US economy through consumption, it only works if we consume within our borders.

Probably the best answer is to do what nearly 85% of cosmetic surgery patients do: put your plastic surgery on plastic money. That’s right. Charge it. With $3000 down, you probably qualify through one of the medical credit loan sharks, uh, I mean companies, for the “low” rate of about 14%. Of course if you don’t want to put that $3000 down, expect to pay about 30% interest. Plus any fees and fines if you miss a payment.

In other words, cosmetic surgery is the subprime mortgage industry of the body. Banks, having learned long ago that the best way to make money is by charging high interest rates and fees (a process known by as “financialization”) figured out that they could lend Americans money for a more perfect body, charge them an arm and a leg, and make some serious profit. Care Credit, a division of General Electric, is the largest medical credit company. According to Barron’s, GE’s health care division has the opportunity for double-digit earnings growth.

Care Credit is happy to lend money for cosmetic surgery, not to the rich and famous, but to average Americans. That’s why over 70% of those getting cosmetic surgery earn less than $60,000 a year. It’s also why Care Credit is under investigation in the state of New York for “predatory lending practices.”

Of course if there’s one thing we now understand, it is that debt will make us poorer even as the corporations that lend us money much wealthier. And although we would all look more “perfect” with those new boobs, we won’t be able to do anything but work to try to keep up with the interest payments. So perhaps the real answer of what to do with our tax rebates is to invest in the seemingly recession-proof industry of plastic beauty and the American search for bodily perfection. After all, if we can’t look perfect, we can at least exploit the desire to do so for our own gain. And in this way make the roulette wheel that is Big Finance and Big Beauty go round.