Dolts in High Places

homer brain Among the rules described by Herman and Chomsky is the one that says, to rise to a position of power in our market-totalitarian society, you either have to be a moron, or unfailingly pretend you are one.

Want proof? Consider the answer Christina Romer, the recently departed Chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, provided to Bloomberg Business Week when it asked why unemployment is “higher than expected”:

BBW: Why do you think that is?

Romer: My guess is the main reason has to do with…the fact that [the recession] was caused by a financial crisis. Since it was such an unusual event, firms may have reacted more forcefully than was usual out of a fear of the unknown. Also, firms that couldn’t get credit may have had to lay more people off than normally.

What an absolute crock. First of all, Romer, a supposed world-class scholar on this very topic, wants you to believe that the current Great Depression III is the cause, rather than the consequence, of the widening gulf between economic production and employment.

Worse, her proffered explanation is a meaningless cloud of farts covering an exceptionally simple and powerful fact: Between 1990 and 2008, U.S. businesses tripled their computer investment/labor spending ratio. Computers are used for administration and communication, but they are also the core means of automating production processes. So, the simple fact is that capitalists are continuing to be capitalists. Their system works, for them. Over time, it employs fewer and fewer people per unit of output.

Being too stupid to track (or too well-trained to mention) this elementary process is the kind of thing that gets you the Presidency and the American Economic Association and a seat in the White House.

Romer is a Homer (Simpson).

7 Replies to “Dolts in High Places”

  1. Always enjoying your posts, I wondered what you think of these words from Baudrillard, circa the 70’s, I believe. Never had read the legend, I was grateful that I comprehended the prose:

    Consumption is therefore a powerful
    element in social control (by atomizing
    individual consumers); yet at the same
    time it requires the intensification of
    bureaucratic control over the processes
    of consumption,which is subsequently
    heralded, with increased intensity,
    as the (italicized) reign of freedom
    We will never escape it.

    I know that features a word you have campaigned against, but I find it quite lucid and compelling.

  2. Martin, I’ve never been a fan of JB. Personally, I think it’s quite misleading to describe corporate capitalist marketing as “bureaucratic.” It’s certainly commanded from on high within bureaucracies, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. In practice, marketing campaigns are quite innovative and flexible and boundary-challenging, and make us of a wide variety of resources, people, and strategies. To chalk all that up to “bureaucracy” is to obscure the dynamism and most of the actions. The DMV is a bureaucracy in action. BBM is corporate capitalist command in action. Weber’s attempt to equate the two never impressed me.

    It’s worth mentioning that the dominant school on all this within American sociology does exactly this. It calls it all “consumption” and accepts “bureaucracy” as an adequate explanation. George Ritzer is the king of this mode of almost-but-not-quite analysis.

    As for atomization and social control, those are real outcomes. But they are merely by-products, not purposes. Corporate capitalism is totalitarian, but mostly in an anarchic, unplanned way. The purpose of marketing is not general social control. It’s purpose is small-scale behavioral manipulation for profit.

    I think any way of approaching the topic that does too much violence to these key realities is a dead end. People need access to careful, thoroughly thought through explanations of social power.

    Guys like Baudrillard and Foucault are not only basically Max Weber on acid, as one of my old profs put it, but they are way too cavalier about evidence and realism.

  3. Martin, I’ve never been a fan of JB. Personally, I think it’s quite misleading to describe corporate capitalist marketing as “bureaucratic.” It’s certainly commanded from on high within bureaucracies, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. In practice, marketing campaigns are quite innovative and flexible and boundary-challenging, and make use of a wide variety of resources, people, and strategies. To chalk all that up to “bureaucracy” is to obscure the dynamism and most of the actions. The DMV is a bureaucracy in action. BBM is corporate capitalist command in action. Weber’s attempt to equate the two never impressed me.

    It’s worth mentioning that the dominant school on all this within American sociology does exactly this. It calls it all “consumption” and accepts “bureaucracy” as an adequate explanation. George Ritzer is the king of this mode of almost-but-not-quite analysis.

    As for atomization and social control, those are real outcomes. But they are merely by-products, not purposes. Corporate capitalism is totalitarian, but mostly in an anarchic, unplanned way. The purpose of marketing is not general social control. Its purpose is small-scale behavioral manipulation for profit.

    I think any way of approaching the topic that does too much violence to these key realities is a dead end. People need access to careful, thoroughly thought through explanations of social power.

    Guys like Baudrillard and Foucault are not only basically Max Weber on acid, as one of my old profs put it, but they are way too cavalier about evidence and realism.

  4. Thanks for your informed reaction, MD – your third-to-the-last paragraph does succinctly explain the real processes at work.
    I do, still, enjoy the “prophetic” part of the JB quote, and the totalizing conclusion. The “freedom” to purchase goods with wages involves so many totalitarian unfreedoms – but there is always that next “development.” Who in the academy is talking about this entrenching “social power” with care and thorough thought? No one person can ever had a lock on Truth, but damn, there has to be someone doing a better than half-assed (Ritzer/Barber?) job?

  5. Personally, I’m not aware of anybody who’s talking about the connections between marketing/commodification/commercialization with precision and respect for evidence, at least not on a sustained basis. Of course, trying that would get you into quick trouble with the dean, so there are institutional reasons. Much safer to talk silly with some big words. That way, you can cater to kids desires to feel liberated without drawing the ire of anybody important.

    There are glimmers, of course. Did you catch this?

    http://carbusters.org/2010/08/11/cars-can-never-run-cleanly-the-automobile-as-an-anti-social-form/

  6. Thanks for the link, and the true words before. I echo that the stress in rescuing nearly-extinct sociology has to be on realism – yet a “car-free world” is like a pollution-free air.
    We can work to lessen the evil, and it would all nice and fine if the car had never come, but they are not going to disappear anytime soon, so why make Baudrillard-like totalizing philosophy an academic pastime? What grade would a UC professor give that stuff – A+, anybody need a ride home?

  7. Cars may not and probably cannot disappear very quickly, but we could certainly start insisting upon new directions in transportation priorities.

    Of course, in order to do that, you have to beat the capitalist class on its home turf…

    History, however, is going to beat them there in any event, so why not start pushing on the issue?

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