Tag: free market capitalism

The Internet and Demand Management (Advertising)

My friend Joe Keenan recently sent me an article by Vicki Boykis, “Fix the internet by writing good stuff and being nice to people” from her blog Woman.Legend.Blog

Today’s internet is mean. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when everyone online became a jerk, but to me it seems that the tipping point occurred right when making money off content started being worth more than the content itself.

Ms. Boykis devotes a lot of attention to the fate of the internet to be just another platform for grabbing our attention to deliver advertising messages.

Of course, since the election, many people, including myself, have finally internalized that Facebook is a burning dumpster fire of memes and political messages that physically exhaust everyone and cause social anxiety, to the point of directly influencing our political process. But, we’re so wired to check for positive reinforcement that we can’t tear ourselves away.

Which brings me to the saddest thing about these platforms: they are taking all of our input and time, and our thoughts, energy, and content, and using all of that for free to make money. Think about how many times you’ve tweeted. Or written or commented on a Facebook post. Or started a Medium draft. These are all our words, locked in proprietary platforms that controls not only how our message is displayed, but how we write it, and even more worrying, how we think about it.

 None of this is new. It is all a predictable extension of the gigantic advertising industry that began its dominance of our culture and our visual landscape in the first decades of the 20th century. It gained strength and penetration into our lives with each communications revolution, radio, TV, now the internet. The internet brings such a granularity of messaging that if you do a few searches in Google for information about Iceland while in Hudson NY you will quickly see advertising pitches for hotels in Iceland appear all around you.

Since we have all grown up in the same corporate fish tank it is hard for us to recognize how complete the reach and scope of the demand management industry is. (Advertising executives referred to their industry with this term back in the 1920s – some economists have continued – see J.K. Galbraith New Industrial State 1978 for example)

Here are a few numbers about global spending on demand management. In 2016 all paid media spending was by region: North America: $202 billion (5.9% of world population), Asia-Pacific: $171 billion (59% world population), Europe: $98 billion (4% of world population) ROW: $90 billion.1  So you can see how intensive the bombardment is here.

This intense focus on demand management is reflected in the amount of retail space there is here compared to other developed countries.

Since 1995, the number of shopping centers in the U.S. has grown by more than 23% and GLA (total gross leasable area) by almost 30%, while the population has grown by less than 14%. Currently there is close to 25 square feet of retail space per capita (roughly 50 square feet, if small shopping centers and independent retailers are added). In contrast, Europe has about 2.5 square feet per capita.
…….The primary and underlying reason for this condition, and why it will continue ad infinitum, is that growth expectations/demands of shareholders, independent owners and Wall Street are higher than the growth of the real economy. And this has been the case for at least the last 25 years2

I point out these facts to suggest that our troubles with advertising on the internet fits into the long-term strategy of capitalists to grab our attention and shove their messages down our throats with ever increasing intensity. This is not new, we are just in a new technically more sophisticated era.

One idea about controlling advertising might be to require the facts and claims mentioned in advertising to in fact be verifiable. We are all intensely upset over our new age on non-fact, counter-fact, alternative-fact politics. Yet, for decades we have allowed advertisers to lie and cheat without bounds in their promotions. An effective enforcement of the  Truth in Advertising Law would be a start.But that would require a government controlled by the people not the corporations and rich.

  1. https://www.emarketer.com/Article/Worldwide-Ad-Spending-Growth-Revised-Downward/1013858 []
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/robinlewis/2015/03/17/retail-in-2015-a-reality-check/#517594ca27ef []

Diversity and Identity Politics Is A Deadend

Progressives have to declare class war as a central strategy. Otherwise we will all be sitting at the dinner table basking in our glorious diversity with nothing to eat.

For many good reasons identity and diversity have dominated our politics for decades.  Progressives celebrate its expansion and Republicans and their brethren on the right pretty universally engage in either dog whistle or outright racist politics. 

Simultaneously the rich and corporations have been fighting a class war. They have succeeded beyond belief. As is well known, for 90% of the population real incomes have been flat for the past 40 yrs. Meanwhile, the rich and corporations have gotten fabulously rich. Richer than at any time in history. And, to make things worse they have done this while hiding behind free-market (neoliberal) ideology that has impoverished the government and the public sphere of our lives. Our infrastructure is crumbling, education is outrageously expensive, sending many students to decades of indebtedness. Our health system costs more than twice any of our developed country cohort and delivers third world results. 

Progressives, time to fight back. Diversity and identity without a fair share of the pie is not going to make you happy.

Neoliberalism – a term that needs never to be used – Updated

Dollars and Sense has been around since the 1970s. Always a source of well researched critiques of capitalism. I recently, after a more than 30 year hiatus, re-upped a subscription.

Dear Dollars & Sense,

Your new issue showed up the other day with the word “neoliberalism” in bold type on the cover. The continuing use of this term is not helpful. When I first saw this word a few years ago I wondered how the word “liberal” and “neoliberal” are connected? Then, I remembered the little I can recall about 19th century European political philosophy. Oh, its that liberalism that is new!

Really, outside of academic circles no one knows what this word means. Most in my circle find it off-putting, obscure and boring.

Talk Back: Correcting the Anti-Government Bias of Our Politics

President Reagan was not the originator of this central trope of free-market (neo-liberal) politics, but he famously said in his first Inaugural Address in 1981, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” President Clinton, a Democrat, continued this theme during his terms culminating the the deregulation of the financial industry in 1999 setting the table for the collapse of 2008 and the Long Recession. Listening to almost any discussion by Republicans and Democrats you can find this theme, “If just get government out of the way, free markets will solve our problems.”

This ideology is ahistorical, counter-factual nonsense. It is asserted without any basis in fact. It is rhetorical cover for policies that have led to the vast enrichment of the wealthy and corporations and the impoverishment of everything public.

Park Avenue and How We Got There

“There” is our current situation in which our government has been bought by the rich and corporations, over 80% of the population has not had a pay raise in 40 years and the public sphere, schools, parks, our infrastructure, really anything not behind the gated walls of private wealth, is being starved in the name of free market ideology. The American promise that hard work, pluck and a bit of luck can bring success to anyone, regardless of their rank at birth, is an empty myth. If you are born poor you will die poor. Even if you are middle-class, there is a significant chance that you will sink and at any rate you will always struggle just to keep that middle-class status.

The rich and corporations have waged a 40 year class war. At this point they have won all of the battles and continue to take home the spoils.

The Gig Economy in the Academy – a note

The values of capitalism, especially as expressed through free market (neoliberal) ideology, have come to dominate how we organize our lives. Silicon Valley and the tech sector is busy celebrating the “gig” economy. Companies have simply stopped hiring employees and now conduct much of their work using “temps”, “1099ers”, part-time contract workers. The companies, and the champions of free markets, tout this as a wonder of flexibility and opportunity. For gigers not being recognized as an employee means that they lose out on all sorts of direct and indirect benefits long part of the contract between employers and employees: minimum wages, overtime benefits, health insurance, workers compensation for those hurt on the job, unemployment benefits for those who are laid off, proof of employment for those trying to rent or get a loan, and, perhaps most significantly, lower taxes (workers who are “independent contractors” have to pay the employer’s share of  payroll taxes, thats an additional 7.7%). Part-time employees have no regular schedule, in many cases no regular place of work, no regular contact with other employees, or even a job at all. They are the ultimate commodity, entirely replaceable with very few contingent liabilities for companies.

American higher education long ago became an essential part of the corporate state and therefore focus for application of free market ideology.1   As the accompanying chart shows, in 1975 the  contingent  faculty (full-time non-tenure, part-time and graduate assistants) made up 55% of the academic workforce.

  1. By corporate state I mean the current situation in which our government, rhetorically democratic, is really the captured entity of the rich and corporations. []

A Note on Jobs & Unemployment

As the presidential campaign of 2016 fades away and the Trump Era begins, we find a national scene without any real discussion of the facts of jobs and unemployment and what the future might bring. Trump and others talk about bringing manufacturing back to the US. No plan, plausible or otherwise, has ever been mentioned for how to accomplish this. The Democrat are hardly better. Much has been made and continues to be made of the role various trade agreements have had in the loss of manufacturing jobs. Even Bernie Sanders can do no better than talking about creating millions of good paying jobs through a national infrastructure program. It is laudable to fix the infrastructure that has become third world, but that is not a long-term jobs strategy.

There are structural changes in the capitalist economy that must be understood and accepted as fact. Lets begin with a few examples. US steel production, one of those lost American industries, is now as high as it was at the beginning of the 1960s.

Next Steps for Progressives

The Trump election debacle demonstrates the bankruptcy of the current leadership of the Democratic Party. Faced with a foe who has engaged in serial bankruptcy as a business strategy, is a notorious know-nothing bully with a very sensitive ego, and is best known as the red-faced guy on reality TV who says “You’re fired”, they could not come up with a candidate and story to retain their core voters in the old rust-belt states.

Election Results: The Next Ten Years

img_1844– The Morning After –

The election of Trump and the continued Republican control of both Congress and Senate guarantee that the rich will continue to get richer at the expense of the shrinking middle class and further aggravate conditions for the poor. Trickle down economics and tax subsidies will flow for the rich and corporations. The financial sector will buy its way out of the weak regulations of Dodd/Frank and lurch towards new adventures in gambling; a financial disaster will once again require the socialization of their risk at taxpayer expense.

1 Our Situation

Our Situation button

For some time I have been thinking, writing, and gathering information, not necessarily in any good order, about our situation here in the US. For more than a decade I have thought that we are in a protracted crisis.

This crisis can be felt at the personal, family, local and national level in all areas of life. Some of the sources are systemic to technological change and the global dynamics of capitalism. Some find their roots in fundamental failures in humans – racism, sexism, religion, etc. Some flow from our political system, some from our economy.

The focus of this work has been to try to identify what this crisis is about within the US context, to describe it, without any real notion of even suggesting solutions.

Where Did This List Come From and Is There an Order?

I first started this list two or three years ago while we were still in the deepest part of the Great Recession. Most of the early entries related to the political system and economic inequality. As I have returned to it I have broadened the coverage of social and political topics. Most recently I have added ones that relate to the mythology underlying our approaches to life in the US.

Here is my current list of topics:

  • Underperforming, expensive healthcare system
  • Political system controlled by big money, private and corporate
  • Distorted role of corporations
  • Quasi-religious faith in “free market” capitalism
  • Race, sex, ethnicity, klans….
  • Myth of social mobility
  • National and State Political Systems Designed to Be Anti-democratic and Dysfunctional
  • 30+ year stagnation of income
  • Disappearance of living wage jobs
  • The rich are at their feeding troughs
  • Expensive, underperforming K-12 educational system
  • Expensive, underperforming higher ed system
  • Web access and infrastructure
  • Homelessness and poverty
  • Bloated, dysfunctional global military and empire
  • Our longest war – the war on drugs
  • Criminal justice system – aka the judicial-incarceration gulag
  • Persistent income disparities
  • Super rich vs. everyone else
  • Intrusion by organized religion into government and politics
  • Energy policy focused on consumption instead of efficiency