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)

Testing the Market Totalitarianism Thesis

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.

The Christmas Creep

july santa 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.

Electile Dysfunction 2010

vote toilet 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.

American Math: Where 74 = 19,000,000

In the United States in 2009, there were 151 million people who received wages. As reporter David Cay Johnston has begun to explain, there is a rather amazing collection of statistics being kept in this crucial area by the Social Security Administration.

Johnston explains some of the shocking, if not at all surprising, facts revealed by a bit of analysis:

[These statistics] do give us a stunning picture of what’s happening at the very top of the compensation ladder in America.

The number of Americans making $50 million or more, the top income category in the data, fell from 131 in 2008 to 74 last year. But that’s only part of the story.

The average wage in this top category increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009. That’s nearly $10 million in weekly pay!

You read that right. In the Great Recession year of 2009 (officially just the first half of the year), the average pay of the very highest-income Americans was more than five times their average wages and bonuses in 2008. And even though their numbers shrank by 43 percent, this group’s total compensation was 3.2 times larger in 2009 than in 2008, accounting for 0.6 percent of all pay. These 74 people made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers.

And remember: This comparison includes federally taxable wages only. It says nothing about stock options, expense accounts, or benefits.

And single-year wage data also say nothing about wealth distribution, which, in a capitalist paradise like the United States, is far more unequal than the income structure.

wage pyramid Finally, I would invite people to just goggle these stats. Contemplate, for instance, the pyramidal structure of the wage system. By far the most densely populated wage segments lie at the low end of the scale. And the slots get almost precisely less-filled as they ascend into the unconscionable stratosphere.

Likewise, one might examine these numbers and ask “our” politicians why the fuck they never shut up about the so-called “middle class.” Aren’t the bottom and the top really the overwhelmingly important issues? And, even without knowing the facts Johnston discusses, aren’t people thirsty for some leadership and meaningful choice in this area?

Alas, few topics are more off-the-table in our market totalitarian society. The mass media are owned by corporate capitalists who enrich themselves by serving the other corporate capitalists who are the sponsors of their fare.  The ruling (R) v. (D) junta, the money-grubbing Business Party duo-mono-poly, a.k.a. our “serious” policians?   The same.

Purest Shit: The Ruling Ideology in 60 Seconds

John Snow With a twinkle in his eye, former neo-robber baron, safety slasher/multiple murderer, and U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow tonight offered the pithiest, purest statement I’ve ever seen of the central claim of our market totalitarian overclass and its bi-partisan political puppets.

To see it, click here, navigate to the video for October 11, 2010, and view the minute from 7:40 to 8:40.

This is indeed, as Snow says, “the theory.”  It is the innermost dogma of supply-side economics, which is business investors’ unwavering self-worshiping insistence, the facts be damned.  In this context, Snow is relating it to the Federal Reserve’s policy, but “the theory” rules all spheres of economic policy in this age, the White House distinctly included.

The great point of falsity, of course, resides in the phrase “lots of people’s household wealth.”  What percentage of the population bases its spending levels on the value of stocks?  Infinitesimal, because an infinitesimal percentage owns enough stocks to matter at this level.  And the few who do?  They save and reinvest a huge share of the income gains they constantly receive.

Alas, all decrepit, outdated ruling classes have long since grown incapable of distinguishing their own circumstances and interests from those of everybody else.