Strummer’s Lament

nero fiddle“A car in the fridge. Or a fridge in the car? Like cowboys do in TV land…”

Such was the late Joe Strummer’s apt diagnosis of capitalism’s inherent pursuit of trivialities/limitation of society’s available macro-choices.

30 years and a month later, what are the great, bailout-taking entrepreneurs up to?  Serious answers to Peak OilPovertyArmageddon?

Not quite.

Holographic birthday cakes, as we’ve seen, for one thing.

The latest “cutting edge” advance?

Recharging smartphones, digital music players and other personal electronics cordlessly will be as easy as dropping them onto the console of a car under a deal being announced today by General Motors.

GM will take a $5 million stake in Powermat, a company that sells cordless charging units for home use. It is making the announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“Imagine a mat or shelf where you could put your iPhone, your Droid or other personal device and charge it automatically while you commute to work, run errands or as you’re driving on a family vacation,” said Micky Bly, GM’s executive director of electronic systems and hybrids, in a release. “The Chevy Volt will be one of the first applications, but we intend to expand it across our vehicle portfolio.”

Yes, imagine!  Will wonders never cease?  How thrilled will your grandkids be to learn that this was the sort of thing that received massive public subsidy in the early 21st century?

Ford’s Latest Finger of Death

skeleton-driverConsumer Reports calls the Ford Motor Company’s new MyFord Touch system, by which automobile operators use computer-video touchpads rather than old-school knobs and switches to perform various mostly extraneous tasks while driving,  “complex and buggy” and “a complicated distraction while driving.”

Translation from the polite punch-pulling language of Consumer Reports: This latest case of marketing-driven product elaboration, which Ford propaganda shamelessly paints as being “all about making the driver’s experience connect with technology in the car, and their digital lifestyle safer and simpler,” is, as the Ford Motor Company certainly knows full well, going to kill thousands of people a year.

Of course, this won’t stop this precisely planned corporate marketing tactic from working.  MyFord Touch, Ford tells Reuters, “is helping make Edge and MKX [the models in which it has been launched) among the best sellers on dealer showroom floors.”

All in a day’s overclass entrepreneurship…using people’s “digital lifestyles” to boost the profits of an outdated corporation’s shareholders, via a deadly, cynical gimmick.

And they say trickle-down economics might be outdated…

Interactive Cake

nero When it comes to allocating society’s surplus wealth, capitalists, the reigning story goes, always know best.

So, one might ask: Beyond perpetuating existing core institutions like big business marketing and cars-first transportation, what new wonders does our corporate overclass hope to deliver, in this, the epoch of peaking resources, crumbling ecosystems, and unresolved extreme inequality and fractiousness?

Interactive Disney cakes.

Renews one’s appreciation for supposedly “crude” predictions that “at a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, …with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.”

The Life Cycle of Social Classes

Here’s a new item for those who are, like TCT, tracking the theme of the rise and decline of dominant social classes.  The prevailing spin on this new result is to see it as a question of “culture.”  In reality it is pure class: the aspiring hegemons are at the top, and the declining emperors are in laughable decline.  And it absolutely figures:  Comparatively wide-spread educational excellence is meaningful and important in societies whose ruling elites are still young and open enough to at least consider exploring unconventional, reality-based answers.  In places like the United States and Britain, meanwhile, the superannuated corporate overclass nailed its windows shut 30+ years ago, and keeps adding new layers of boondoggle and cant to wall out the world.  Despite its de rigueur claim to care about “catching up” again, few things would be more threatening to long-established patterns of domestic stratification than a sudden wave of actual concern for good teaching and popular educational advancement.

schoolclass

[Source: The New York Times, December 7, 2010]

And a Triplet…

If you doubted the accuracy of yesterday’s twin quotes, the second of which suggested that the overclass is enjoying a luxury boom even as the mass of the population sinks toward and through 99er status, consider this item from today’s edition of The New York Times:

The nation’s workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever.

American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.66 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or non-inflation-adjusted terms.

Corporate profits have been going gangbusters for a while. Since their cyclical low in the fourth quarter of 2008, profits have grown for seven consecutive quarters, at some of the fastest rates in history.

This breakneck pace can be partly attributed to strong productivity growth — which means companies have been able to make more with less.

Twin Quotes for Late 2010

“It’s not just the fact that the elites have all the wealth in a society, but that they are disconnected from the problems. If the rich and powerful still live the good life as society is spinning downhill, they are not motivated to solve the problems.” (Jared Diamond)

marie antoinette

Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Ali Dibadj saw in the third quarter a “decoupling” of the luxury and prestige markets, also including LVMH and Elizabeth Arden, from the mass marketers. And the results extended beyond beauty, as Macy’s and Nordstrom showed increases in customer traffic year over year last quarter even as the U.S. Walmart division last week reported continued year-over-year declines in traffic for the quarter ended Oct. 31, albeit improvements from the prior quarter.

“The luxury consumer is shopping again, and we are seeing our strategy contribute to … prestige beauty growing faster than mass in many parts of world,” said Estee Lauder CEO Fabrizio Freda on a conference call with analysts last month. He pointed to U.S. beauty sales in department stores and Sephora growing 4% last quarter, according to NPD Group, while sales in mass channels grew only 1%.  (Advertising Age, “Prestige, Luxury Products Thrive as Mass Market Sputters,” November 22, 2010)