Systematic Waste

Corporate capitalism operates — normally and increasingly so — by selling people more stuff than rational design requires. The automobile is a linchpin of the system. It is also the most wasteful mass-distributed product in human history, by a wide margin. This picture, from the Muenster, Germany city planning office illustrates depicts the amount of stuff (and, hence, space) involved in using cars versus buses or bikes:

waste depicted

It would have taken an massive, intentional, coordinated effort (ala Vance Packard‘s rocket blasts of excess goods) to have squandered more energy and materials than has been wasted on automobiles-ueber-alles in America. It’s going to be understood as one of our country’s many huge criminalities, if we somehow figure out how to survive its coming implosion, which promises economic and military chaos.

Green Smoke Indeed!

James Howard Kunstler today posts this useful news nugget:

Blowing Green Smoke Up America’s Ass # 23:General Motors – referred to nowadays as “the sub-prime loan company that also makes cars” – has opened a public relations campaign on National Public Radio to convince the public that its heart is in the right place. The centerpiece of the campaign is the Chevy Volt, GM’s venture into hybrid cars. The voice in the radio spot announces that the Volt is an environmentally-friendly electric vehicle assisted by what they call “an on-board range-extending power source.” Wonder what that means? Think gasoline-powered internal combustion engine.

And, of course, the smoke being blown here is much worse than just this.

First of all, the Chevy Volt is a concept car, not a production one. If you could buy one -and you can’t– it would carry a price-tag of $100,000!

Second, even the great General Motors, with its long track record of delivering high-quality, cutting-edge cars (that thud you just heard was people everywhere falling off their chairs in paroxysms of laughter) admits it isn’t planning to sell a Volt until at least 2010 — despite the fact that they are advertising them now! (This tells us something crucial about the role of supposedly “green” vehicles in the car corporations’ plans. Even as they sponsor NPR propaganda campaigns, you can hear the rustle of accumulated capital fleeing somewhere, anywhere, other than into future investments in car-making…UAW take note.)

And, of course, all of this jive talk presumes and promotes public ignorance about the most basic fact of the science of energy — the reality that all supplies of energy for fueling cars are not just finite, but up against the wall of history. Plugging your car into the wall is hardly a viable answer to the arrival of Peak Oil, as explained by Kunstler and others. Nevertheless, talking as if it were underlies everything GM and the other auto-capitalists are now saying.

The extent to which more well-meaning folks, who might otherwise see through the outdated, increasingly murderous capitalist scam behind automobiles-ueber-alles, fail to resist this “green smoke” is the exact extent to which we are all doomed.

Onward Corporate Soldiers…

new frontiers in eyeball capturing

The next egg is hatching: O.V.A., Out-of-home Video Advertising, is growing faster than the overall economy, and is now the second most rapidly expanding branch of ad spending, after the internet.  By 2010, despite “a sharp downturn in global advertising spending and a decline in traditional out-of-home advertising in 2009, digital out-of-home media is among the fastest growing media in the world and will continue on an upward track in 2010, according to a new global forecast from PQ Media.” [Remember when there used to be a quaint debate about whether commerce or science and democracy would dominate the “information superhighway?”]

As Advertising Age reports, this redoubled corporate drive to extend television (i.e., the #1 marketing “platform”) beyond the four walls of the nation’s thoroughly TV-saturated McMansions and McShacks “includes everything from elevators to urinals.”

The problem for marketers, you see, is that, although corporate capitalist priorities are in virtually complete control of all aspects of life in the United States, that is never good enough for the individual firms that comprise the system. In the abstract, it is a capitalist’s dream-come-true that watching commercial TV is the unrivaled #1 leisure-time activity in the society, and that almost every human need from thirst-quenching to everyday mobility is now slaked via maximum-profit-yielding commodities. But, in the specific realm of competitive profit-making, that’s mere trivia. How do we surpass last quarter’s return-on-investment? That, that, is the question.

working the body while getting worked in the brain...The only possible corporate capitalist answer is, of course, more and better marketing, a.k.a. profitable manipulation of “consumer behavior.”

Hence, the emerging explosion of O.V.A. Despite the huge amount of time ordinary Americans devote to regular in-home TV, that field is now so littered with rival ad campaigns, its overclass sponsors grow restless. They want and demand more. Hence, the business press reports on the move into O.V.A., where they seek to revive the glory days of early marketing:

Prime time’s original significance was in the opportunity to consistently hold a consumer’s undivided attention—after all, advertising messages are more effective when you have a captive audience. (Source: Media Week press release)

“Reaching a Truly Captive Audience” is the title of this effusive little report. You see, in the boardrooms that plan and implement our “free market economy,” the captivity of “the consumer” is understood to be a VERY good thing indeed.

Meanwhile, we Amerikins remain the underlings of a ruling class whose own dominance makes them behave like the hell-spawn of the villains of Orwell and Huxley. As they corporate rich continue to run the show, we follow the asymptote up the wall of complete market totalitarianism.

“Arbeit Macht Frei”: Our Version

Capitalism does a few things well. Cheapening and distributing portable camera technology is one such thing. Using my camera phone, I snapped this one at a Target store this weekend:

This “limitless choices” claim, of course, is U.S. corporate capitalism’s version of the cruel slogans the Nazis hung over the gates of their domestic death-camps. The only difference is that our underlying population believes the slogans.

This is tragic, since one thing that is distinctly untrue about corporate capitalism in the United States is that it is a system that provides “limitless choices.” On the contrary, it is utterly dependent upon the careful policing of the realm of collective, political, macro-level choices. From transportation to education to war to the ability to launch public enterprises, the general population is VERBOTEN from meaningful participation in setting priorities and policies.

And, even at the vaunted micro level of personal shopping choices, big business marketing is a trillion-plus-dollars-a-year juggernaut, the sole purpose of which is to manipulate and addle “consumer behavior” in favor of corporate requirements.

In America, you can choose from a huge array of blue jeans, but, barring a revolution, you cannot hope to alter the murderous and suicidal path of your own nation’s normal development.

Pierre Tristam on the Economics of U.S. Survival

Pierre Tristam is my favorite newspaper journalist. He has a great piece on his blog. It explains how expensive life has become in our ultra-commodified, automobiles-ueber-alles, corporate capitalist society. [Note: Tristam’s numbers do not include the costs of paying credit card bills and other modes of servicing past cost-of-living deficits.]

Capitalism’s Beverage & the Obesity Epidemic

The Los Angeles Times reports that Disneyland is retooling its boats-on-water rides because of the raging obesity epidemic in the United States, “to deal with the delicate problem of bottoming-out boats.

small world no more...

People are simply getting too fat for the existing rides, including the now satirically named “It’s a Small World”:

“Forty-one years after the whimsical ride debuted at the Anaheim park, Disneyland plans to shutter the attraction in January to give it a much-needed face-lift — and deal with the delicate problem of bottoming-out boats.

“Heavier-than-anticipated loads have been causing the boats to come to a standstill in two different spots, allowing for an extra-long gander at the Canadian Mounties and the Scandinavian geese, said Al Lutz, whose website MiceAge first reported the refurbishment plans.

“Disneyland is well aware of America’s expanding waistlines.

“In recent years, the park has redesigned many of its costumes and started stocking them in larger sizes to accommodate ever-expanding waistlines. Adult men and women are about 25 pounds heavier than they were in 1960, and 65% are considered overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The average weight for men jumped from 166 pounds in 1960 to 191 pounds in 2002; women average 164 pounds instead of 140.

“Of course, this is a world of fantasy and the perfect place to forget about that diet for a few hours. So when somebody gets booted from the boat, Lutz said, Disneyland ride operators make sure the guests don’t leave disappointed: They hand them a food ticket.”

The primary cause of this epidemic (which is very closely and inversely correlated with individuals’ class position) is corporate capitalism.

As I explain in my book, as the system churns on, its normal operation compels all big businesses to extend and refine their marketing operations, which are neither more nor less than history’s most detailed and expensive behavioral-control campaigns.

As this generates an expanding marketing race, it increasingly commercializes and commodifies off-the-job life. Along the way, less capitalist-friendly practices and products give way to more capitalist ones.

One of corporate capitalism’s ultimate (and hence most important) products is soda pop: It preys upon human weaknesses for sugar and caffeine and sensory titillation. It is impossible to make at home or obtain for free. It is mildly addictive. It is highly packagable and marketable.

Along with the reign of the automobile (another of corporate capitalism’s core products), soda-pop is a chief cause of the horrifying obesity epidemic in the United States.

Soda pop has roughly 150 empty calories per 12-oz serving. In 1900, Americans drank the equivalent of 12 12-oz cans of soda per capita annually. In 1929, they drank 26 cans per person per year. 1949 = 158; 1957 = 200. In 2004? 535 cans of pop per person per year! Soda now far surpasses water as the #1 thing Americans drink. Between 1980 and 2005, its per capita ingestion in the United States increased every single year!

[An Aside: People in the mass media often puzzle over why French people are not as fat as Americans. Is it drinking wine? French mystique? A secret epidemic of French bulimia? Hell, no! It’s the cars and the soda pop, i.e. the unrestricted capitalism, stupid! The French have the Paris Metro and the TGVs and a forest of bikeable and walkable cities. And what was France’s 2004 per capita ingestion of soda pop? Just over 100 cans per person, about 1/5 of the U.S. rate. 400 cans of soda-pop, the number Americans drink over each year and above the French average, contain 60,000 calories. Q.E.D.]

As I like to say, the degree of control our ruling class has over us underlings would make Joseph Stalin purple with jealousy. We in America just simply live under market totalitarianism. Our habits are approaching complete commodification, with outcomes that deserve serious consideration by anybody wondering what kind of basis money makes for a purported civilization…