Survival and the Business Class

Capitalists have always claimed that, because they have an intense interest in providing things for which people will pay money, they must be granted free reign to dominate society’s macro-level decisions. Any serious interference with the private business sector’s ability to make and sell whatever makes it the most profit will, the theory goes, only lead to disaster. Only capitalists, it is said, pay careful-enough attention to what people actually want and need. Hence, we must leave them to it.

bomb on dollar image

One of the classic hypotheses stated by Karl Marx was, of course, a converse notion. Capitalists, Marx observed, can and do care about what people want and need only up to a certain point:

“Après moi, le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society.”

This thesis is rather interesting in these days of SARS-CoV2, isn’t it?

In this vein, I was struck this morning to learn — somehow for the first time — that, in 1943 — 1943!!! — the business class forced FDR to fire none other than John Kenneth Galbraith from his post as Deputy Director of the Office of Price Administration.

Galbraith’s offense? Doing his job: administering prices and restricting capitalist production of “consumer” doodads so that fascism — the real kind — could be stopped from conquering the world.

According to the excellent book recounting this stunning bit of forgotten history, while ousting Galbraith, the Republican Party also pushed legislation that “would have barred anyone who didn’t have at least five years of experience in ‘business’ from running OPA.”

So, this idea of “run it like a business” is quite a bit older than Ronald Reagan’s epochal and ongoing triumph.

Interestingly, many years later, here is what Galbraith recalled about his experience trying to use the OPA to save the USA from eventual atomic war with Nazi Germany:

“There were weeks when Hitler scarcely entered our minds compared with the business types in Washington.”

Why NPR Sucks

Alexander Cockburn used to argue that, under corporate capitalism, one function of the major mass media is clever misreporting of important stories.

With this powerful hypothesis in mind, take a listen to this little ditty from today’s version of NPR’s Morning Edition:

The story is about how Bloomberg News instructed its own award-winning reporters to stop probing the wealth and power of China’s ruling class [story behind paywall, of course], and went so far in the effort as to try coercing its journalists’ life partners into signing NDAs.

So, important story, for sure. But what, pray tell, is it about?

Surely, the story is about the severe limitations placed on journalism by private, for-profit media ownership — right, National Public Radio?

Nope. Not even close.

What, instead, does NPR — the supposedly alternative content “made possible” by its constantly-mentioned private sponsors — say their own story is about?

Mike Bloomberg might be a weasel.

What else at Bloomberg News is being hidden if such contracts exist that require such secrecy?

Innovation and Capitalist Medicine

John Power reports on yet another appalling aspect of the world’s most expensive medical scheme:

Balking at the cost of in-house research, major drug companies have slashed R&D budgets in recent years to focus on the late-stage development and manufacturing of treatments pioneered externally – often by publicly funded entities such as government institutes and universities.

All 210 new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration between 2010 and 2016 were developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health, which distributes about 80 per cent of its US$40 billion annual spend on medical research to more than 2,500 universities and research institutes worldwide.

“Big Pharma generally do not have research divisions anymore,­ they gave those away when they found their research was three times as expensive per drug developed than ones sourced from academia,” said Ian Frazer, a professor at the University of Queensland who co-invented the human papillomavirus vaccine. “Industry only gets involved in manufacturing and marketing a likely successful product.”

Donations as Marketing Ploys

TCT is composed in Portland, Oregon, USA. Here, our electricity is delivered by the Portland General Electric corporation, which trades as POR on the New York Stock Exchange.

There have naturally been several attempts over the years to make PGE a not-for-profit public organization. So far, they have always been rebuffed by moneyed forces.

Leap, now, to the present moment: As the overseers of the still for-profit PGE surely are having worried meetings about, in the present civilizational crisis, the socialization question naturally suggests itself again. Why should Portlanders allow Wall Street rentiers to skim off resources in this way?

Very soon, there will, of course, also be big questions about who among and how Portlanders are going to pay PGE and its absentee owners, now that capitalism has run off its rails and paychecks are dwindling at best. Again, why allow Wall Street rentiers a say in such a vital matter?

Imaginably, the financial status of POR itself might also soon reach a nasty point, raising public bailout issues. If this comes to pass, what should Portlanders demand in return?

Big questions, right?

So, what does the for-profit PGE do? It moves to pre-empt these screamingly obvious questions.

Its technique is surely happening all across the corporate-and-urban world:

Make a big-sounding donation, accompied by a press release to local news media. The aim, undoubtedly, is to implant this reaction in the audience:

Wowie! A million dollars! For homeless people and kids! So generous! So forward-thinking!

But wait. How many millions of dollars did Portland General Electric harvest on behalf of its shareholders last year alone? 1,509 millions.

So PGE is now “donating” less than one-tenth of one percent of its annual gross profits to its host city.

The minuteness of this number is enough to tell you that this is not, in fact, any kind of charity. This “donation” is neither more nor less than a marketing move, designed to pre-sell residents of the Portland metropolitan area on the notion that PGE is a good egg and shouldn’t be scrutinized.

The Comatose Left

homer brain Google is apparently heightening its censorship of news sources, in response to the Duopoly©’s “fake news” flap. Mirroring the Democratic© brand of the duopoly’s proposed answer to the latest worsening of the nation’s information-and-education climate, Google is running with the notion that “more authoritative content” is what is needed within the otherwise uncriticized structure and flow of the corporate mass media. “Authoritative,” of course, means “mainstream,” which, in turn, means what is squarely conventional within the usual logic of corporate media properties.

What does the political left have to say about fixing this blatant attack on free and open thought? Nothing. The #Occupy folks are too high on anarchist fantasy to maintain organizing efforts, let alone name detailed demands. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, remains too tied to the overseers and tactics of the Democratic© brand to dare mention the obvious remedy.

That remedy, by the way, is to empower the United States Postal Service to live up to its Constitutional mandate. This would involve modernizing the USPO, to make it a fully-funded and aggressively-managed provider of not just ISP and cellular access, but also secure, marketing-free, non-commercial search engine, web browsing, and social networking software/services.

Behavior Changers

In today’s Advertising Age, another admission of the true nature of corporate marketing:

“Skincare is an interesting category for us because it’s one a decent number of men aren’t even using today,” said Dollar Shave CMO Adam Weber. “It allows us to do what we’ve done in some other categories, like butt wipes, by thinking about what men are doing and how we can change behavior.”

Men’s skincare has been a big but largely unfulfilled dream for many marketers in the U.S., where it’s a $263 million category growing about 3% annually, according to Euromonitor. Globally, the category is $3.5 billion and growing more than twice as fast.