Marketing and Market Totalitarianism

For ordinary people in our proto-democratic age, life has three sectors: 1) employment/work, 2) personal life/free time, and 3) politics/the state.

Together, the first two comprise what scholars call “civil society.” In a democracy, free time is actually free, and nourishes independent citizenship, which then in turn governs both state and economy.

As we all know, the antithesis of democracy is totalitarianism, which Merriam-Webster defines thus:

Main Entry: 1to·tal·i·tar·i·an
Pronunciation: (")tO-"ta-l&-'ter-E-&n
Function: adjective
Etymology: Italian totalitario, from totalità totality
1 a : of or relating to centralized control by an autocratic leader or hierarchy : AUTHORITARIAN, DICTATORIAL; especially : DESPOTIC b : of or relating to a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation especially by coercive measures (as censorship and terrorism)
2 a : advocating or characteristic of totalitarianism b : completely regulated by the state especially as an aid to national mobilization in an emergency c : exercising autocratic powers : tending toward monopoly

So, here’s the quiz question: Why is subordination to the state part of this definition?

The answer, of course, is that this unnecessary qualification distracts attention from the other possible source of totalitarian control — namely, the “private” economy.

And that is exactly what we now have in the United States — market totalitarianism, a political-economic regime based on subordination of the individual to the big business class and its strict control of all aspects of life.Bentham's Sketch

The state? Everybody who pays attention has long since known that the Money Power owns American governments.

Work? No need to even comment on that topic.

But what about “free time?”

Corporate marketing, the trillion-plus-dollars-a-year juggernaut of managerial manipulation, is the main vehicle by which our overclass dominates “free time” here in the United States. And this domination is far subtler and deeper — and far less recognized — than state-totalitarian methods, horrific as they are, have ever been.

In truth, thanks in no small part to big business marketing, market totalitarianism in the United States is both real and much more effective than state totalitarianism could ever hope to be. Where state despots are all thumbs, big business marketing is a thousand dextrous hands. What’s more, because the system’s single purpose — maximum further profit for the already rich — is pursued by genuinely competing institutions rather than a central Politburo, and because the henchmen of these institutions aim to control the practical circumstances and private communications of civil society rather than public rules, market totalitarianism has enjoyed far greater “deniability” than its more famous, state-centered cousins ever did.

The true bottom line? Unless wesoon wake up to this reality, we (and the world we still dominate) are just as screwed, albeit more slowly, subtly, and (sometimes, somewhat) more pleasurably, as recent history’s other boot-crushed masses.