I recently wrote a blog post on the ways that ducks come to symbolize various elements of American culture. Specifically, I explored how Scrooge McDuck embodies capitalism in the United States.
It is worth further exploring this notion in light of a recent pop culture display in Saturday Night Live’s recurring sketch Weekend Update, the ever relevant bastion of American satirical news.
You can view the quick sketch here -
During this interview with the Weekend Update anchors, we see Scrooge McDuck (played by Andy Samberg) gloating about his sound investment strategy of owning pure gold. By owning nothing but gold coins, he has limited his risk exposure rather than subjecting his financial well being to the ebbs and flows of the US stock market. I believe this hyperbolic boast has some legitimate economic commentary.
The primary investment vehicle of the average American is the 401k. However, did you know that you cannot directly own gold (or fine art) with your 401k? Granted, you can invest in securities which have an interest in gold, but you cannot actually own the precious metal as Scrooge McDuck does.
In order to receive the tax-deferred benefits of a 401k, you cannot invest in a collectible since it creates little to no economic capital for growth. Thus, the chief vehicle of American investing inherently discourages the conservatism that has yielded so much wealth for Scrooge McDuck in a cyclical economy.
There is a fundamental conflict of interest between the individual investor and Wall Street when the manner of investment is the 401k. While a 401k can be an excellent tool to grow personal wealth, it also can be a mechanism for a relatively small number of Wall Street bankers to enslave the discretionary capital of the masses via enticement with tax benefits and the illusion of a worry free retirement.
Of course, the intention of the SNL sketch was not to illustrate this point. However, when one examines the roots of Scrooge McDuck, and his evolving reflection of American capitalism, it becomes apparent that the financial practices which made him wealthy, and the fiscal policies which gave him and all other Americans the opportunity to become wealthy, are today being suppressed by the interests of Wall Street plutocrats.
It is also worth noting that in this SNL sketch we see Scrooge McDuck lament his freakish and isolated nature brought on by his fowlish form. He claims that he was once a human, but the side effects of swimming in gold coins have yielded diseases polymorphing him into a duck. He even goes so far as to say, “My life is like a deleted scene from The Island of Dr. Moreau.” This aboration of devolving from a human to a duck , although not a part of official Disney Scrooge McDuck cannon, is similar to my own commentary in which I wrote -
[Scrooge McDuck's] ambition and material greed have placed him up as a duck for sale, owned more by his riches and their ensuing responsibilities than his own character. Thus Scrooge McDuck may be able to swim through oceans of gold coins in his expansive mansion, but he will always be a goofy, waddling duck – holed up to live in solitude in his fortress of lonely extravagance.
However, in the end of this SNL bit, Scrooge McDuck decrees that “It’s worth it! Gold coins!”