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.
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.
“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)
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)
Market totalitarianism is the creeping advancement of corporate capitalist control over all the details of modern life, in and across its three major spheres — work, politics, and personal life.
If you doubt this phenomenon is real, consider this fact, as mentioned, all the way from Australia, by TCT commenter Luis Cayetano: In May of 1958, Erich Fromm was interviewed at length on commercial television in the United States.
52 years later, that same thing is so far from being possible, it is almost unimaginable. Picture 60 Minutes, for example, devoting not just one but two segments (see the run-time of the Wallace interview of Fromm) to letting, say, Noam Chomsky explain his present view of the society and the world.
No fucking way that happens now, obviously. Sponsors these days, having grown all the more powerful and having learned well the dangers of unpoliced television, would never permit it, and the producers and reporters, knowing that, would never in a million years propose it.
This item is not Earth-shattering news to anybody, but this system does have its pressures, and they do not relent. From Stuart Elliott:
For Marketers, Christmas Started Last Month By STUART ELLIOTT Published: October 31, 2010
NOW that Halloween is done, Madison Avenue is embarking on the mad dash to Dec. 25.
The sluggish economy is raising the stakes for the Christmas shopping season. Some retailers and marketers, worried that uncertainty among shoppers might increase as the weeks go by, hope to pull demand forward by moving up the start of their pitches.
Of course, the pressure to stretch the year’s great orgy of needless buying, misdirected giving, and extra-exploitative marketing runs in both directions:
Never mind those concerned about ads that make it seem that the holiday arrives too soon. Coca-Cola worries about it ending too early.
“Our challenge is to keep Christmas going,” said Shay Drohan, senior vice president for sparkling brands at Coca-Cola, so “it goes the whole way through the first week in January” and takes in New Year’s Eve, school holidays and Twelfth Night.
If you’ve subjected yourself to television in the United States within the last several months, you already know this. But it bears quoting, if only to create a record of the hurtling, heedless decline of this market-totalitarian society. From Advertising Age for November 1, 2010:
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — Another election cycle, another year of bitter partisan bickering [ed: exclusively over cynical claims and phony distinctions], another record-breaking mountain of cash spent on political advertising — all of which add up to tight inventory for local TV affiliates. According to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, ad spending this season will top $3 billion. Borrell Associates has predicted spending will get as high as $4.2 billion this year.
We’ve come to expect steadily increasing ad outlays in political election cycles, but this year is different.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Evan Tracey, president of Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.
Aside from issues of anti-incumbency fervor and Tea Party madness, “the big difference in this election is the Citizens United impact,” he said, but not necessarily because major corporations are funneling more cash into the system. Rather, last spring’s Supreme Court ruling that upended many of the former restrictions on political advertising has given political ad groups more time to spend, and increased fundraising firepower.
Gone are the rules barring such advertising 60 days out from an election, meaning two full months of more spending for [groups with huge amounts of cash].
Here is another example of why ceding the mass media environment to “the private sector” is poison to democracy and society. How much do national and local media outlets love this trend? As “the electoral process” asymptotically approaches complete decline into Coke versus Pepsi land, as welfare-state-hating candibot Tweedledum attacks ashamed, pseudo-liberal candibot Tweedledee for cutting Medicare while candibot Tweedledee is busy crowing about giving “entrepreneurs” more tax cuts, and as real problems become ever more undiscussable, both the cash register and the wall of sponsored hooey ring louder and louder.
Orwell and Huxley would be out of work these days. Dystopian fiction has little left to invent.