The Voice of the System

Power corrupts. Power concedes nothing. Power tells itself just-so stories.

Nick Clegg photo

On the latter front, consider the corporate memo just published by The New York Times. Written by Sir Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of public policy and global affairs, this instructional missive was apparently just issued to all Facebook employees in anticipation of still more revelations about what it’s like to make profits by knowingly exploiting and damaging the general public.

Sir Nick begins with realism:

You will have seen the series of articles about us published in the Wall Street Journal in recent days, and the public interest it has provoked. This Sunday night, the ex-employee who leaked internal company material to the Journal will appear in a segment on 60 Minutes on CBS. We understand the piece is likely to assert that we contribute to polarization in the United States.

Memo reprinted in The New York Times, 3 Oct 2021

Note that the topic at hand is whether Facebook contributes to socio-political polarization.

Here, however, is Sir Clegg’s statement of the official Facebook position on this charge:

But the idea that Facebook is the chief cause of polarization isn’t supported by the facts.

Ibid.

This is a major example of what sociologist Linsey McGoey calls “strategic ignorance,” or “unknowing.” Every 9th grader can recognize the crude shift Clegg attempts. The plain accusation is that his organization is a significant source of a problem. Yet, by converting “a” into “chief,” Clegg moves the goalposts to a different field.

Not subtle. Not skillful. Not even clever. Yet this is part of what top genius execs, after intense rounds of emergency “team” meetings, get paid to do for our epoch’s dominant organizations.

As McGoey points out, such Orwellian chutzpah is no anomaly. It is, in fact, Business as Usual.

And, as you can see in this very memo, it’s not just the confabulation that’s newsworthy. These supposedly far-seeing masters of technical precision are also very quick to believe their own sophomoric petulance. Indeed, they tend to wax sanctimonious about it:

I know some of you – especially those of you in the US – are going to get questions from friends and family about these things so I wanted to take a moment as we head into the weekend to provide what I hope is some useful context on our work in these crucial areas.

Nick Clegg to Facebook employees

Friends, family, weekend, “our work.” Such valiance!

Consider the Peanut Butter Jar

In an age when product containers can easily and almost costlessly be shaped at the whim of their issuers, why does peanut butter continue to come in tall jars rather than squat tubs?

A corporate PR department would surely assert that it’s because that’s what people are used to and expect.

That, of course, is 99% horse feathers.

The real reason is salable waste, aka planned osolescence.

Tall, narrow containers make it needlessly difficult to use all the sticky, amorphous gels residing in them. This structural difficulty, in turn, leads to a small but meaningful amount of the peanut butter being throw away, rather than used. It means, on average, people buy the next jar of peanut butter a day earlier than they would if the stuff came in a short, wide tub that permitted easy access to the last portions.

If you have been around big-brand peanut butter lately, you’ll know that this point stands double. Nationally advertised peanut butter jars are not just tall cylinders, but, within that form, are fairly riddled with flanges and recesses that heighten the difficulty of using the last spoonfuls. Why?

Again, there’s only one plausible answer — the obvious one: Corporate capitalist product planners want us to throw away some of what they know we want and need.

Interestingly, this very example was apparently central to the career of Brooks Stevens, the industrial designer who first publicly enunciated/acknowledged the concept of “planned obsolescence.” Here is how Stevens, near the end of his life, explained his early entry into a field in which he eventually became a superstar:

Peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches inspired one of Brooks Stevens’s simplest and most ubiquitous designs.

“I loved peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches,” Mr. Stevens says. But the jars the peanut butter came in were tall with small caps. “I could never get the peanut butter out of the shoulders of the jar.”

“So I squared up the jar,” he recalls. “And then I made the opening the full diameter of the width of the jar, so that it was a big circle and had a big cap. Then you could get it all out of there.”

The obvious question for Stevens was why he stopped there. Why not go from jar to tub?

The answer was inherent in the job description of the modern corporate capitalist product engineer:

[The industrial designer] has to be a salesman, an engineer, a manufacturer — in the sense of knowledgeable about process and materials — and an artist, and in that order.

-Brooks Stevens to The Chroncile of Higher Education, September 16, 1992

It bears repeating, and remembering: Salesman, then engineer…in that order.

Facebook’s One True Fear

According to The Washington Post, as a move in its defense against now-pending anti-trust litigation, Facebook has recently done this:

In an attempt to illustrate its commitment to competition, the company’s top lawyers signaled that they would be open to changing some of its business practices, according to three people familiar with the matter. One of the ideas Facebook floated would have allowed another firm or developer to license access to its powerful code — and its users’ intricate web of relationships — so that they could more easily create their own version of a social network, said the individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity

The Washington Post, December 22, 2020

The Post, of course, never for a second considers what this action ultimately discloses. Yes, Facebook dislikes being sued for excessive market power, as this report has it. But what Facebook really fears is the utterly obvious thing that would actually kill it: a public, not-for-profit version of itself.

As this Post report confirms, Facebook will be quite happy to have its would-be competitors arise from the private sector. That’s because the private sector will never dare do the things the public-sector would do as a matter of course — and hence will never do more than slightly dent Facebook’s artificial dominance.

Only if and when the public modernizes the United States Postal Service and includes in that effort a non-commercial, reliably private forum for quick interpersonal internet communication will Facebook’s empire face its true comeuppance.

Alas, in our almost completely corporate media ecology, this simple prospect — despite surely being an object of serious worry inside the Facebook boardroom — remains unmentioned and unmentionable.

McKinsey Caught Shredding

papers burning

In its work on behalf of Purdue Pharma, the corporate consulting agency McKinsey left a stray end: It forgot to delete the emails in which its executives agreed to commence shredding evidence of their work perpetuating a profitable addiction.

Here is what The New York Times reports, from the court records:

Though McKinsey has not been charged by the federal government or sued, it began to worry about legal repercussions in 2018, according to the documents. After Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against Purdue, Martin Elling, a leader for McKinsey’s North American pharmaceutical practice, wrote to another senior partner, Arnab Ghatak: “It probably makes sense to have a quick conversation with the risk committee to see if we should be doing anything” other than “eliminating all our documents and emails. Suspect not but as things get tougher there someone might turn to us.”

Mr. Ghatak, who also advised Purdue, replied: “Thanks for the heads up. Will do.”

This revelation is rare, but the behavior it documents certainly is not. Not the least proof of this is the nonchalance of the Ghatak reply to Elling’s idea: Not “Wait!, ” or “What…?,” or “please explain,” but this: “Thanks for the heads up. Will do.”

To say that this little report speaks volumes is to belabor the obvious.

One of the pertinent lesssons here is confirmation of the fact that we will never know the full degree and dimension of our ruling elite’s plans to keep killing for money. Records have been destroyed.

The Actual Use of Corporate Capital

Any guesses what this graphic depicts?:

That is the percentage of free cash flow the firms included in the S&P 500 Index spent across the 2010s buying back their own shares, according to Bloomberg Business Week.

This is not an error or an optical illusion.

To say it again: From 2010 through 2019, U.S.-based big businesses, as a group, spent more than half their net profits buying back claims to their own future profits — i.e. helping their future shareholders extract even more wealth from forthcoming corporate endeavors. More than half.

Compare this fact to your Adam Smith model, pro-capitalist friends.