Word of the Day: Fuffle

The inimitable Dmitry Orlov posts another clarifying gem of a concept for our times: fuffles.

A fuffle is an artful fake, an artifact specifically made to fool, beguile, seduce, or intimidate people into paying for it. Ideally, the initial transaction serves as the basis of a permanent arrangement, with the victim roped into an installment plan, which keeps the payments flowing even after the fuffle itself has crumbled into a pile of dust. An even better fuffle is one that grows over time. Since a fuffle is, in essence, a fake, its useful properties, should it have any, are largely irrelevant, and so its abstract (which is to say, financial) properties come forth as being the essential ones. The most important such property is, quite obviously, size, and indeed fuffles tend to get bigger and bigger over time. This is a telltale feature of fuffles that makes them easier to identify: if something gets bigger and bigger over time while delivering the same or lesser value, then it is quite likely to be a fuffle. Also, fuffles breed: as a fuffle gets larger and larger, it produces offspring of other fuffles, which also grow. Examples come from many realms.

Automobiles, which started out as mere historically, economically, and ecologically naive boondoggles, have long since passed over into blunt, planned corporate capitalist fuffledom, as Orlov suggests.

Read his full post here.

As in the case of private-sector medical “care” and financial “investing”, President Obama is making the extension of the automotive fuffle, to which corporate capitalists are quite literally addicted, a central project of his increasingly disastrous, ideology-driven Administration.

Quote of the Day: Truth for the Animals

Dmitry Orlov says it’s boondoggles chasing boondoggles.  The late, great Marvin Harris simply labeled it “intensification.”

Either way, the point is that overclasses do one thing and one thing only — pursue the tactics and strategies that carried them to the top of the societies to which they dictate the terms of life.

Alas, as both Orlov and Harris argue, this reliance on doing the same-old-same-old only gets stronger after class decrepitude arrives and the underlying conditions for further exploitation (and further life for the proles) begin to erode themselves.  Just when they most need fresh ideas, established overclasses instead only redouble the old ones.

Any brush with the news of the day provides ample proof of this thesis.

My task for today is to pass along the sub-news that the point applies to big business marketing as well as to macro-economic policy and geo-politics.

Consider this comment from Douglas Brooks, Senior Vice President of the Aegis Group’s Media Marketing Assessment unit:

When the fish get finicky, it makes you a better fisherman.  The presentation of the bait and how it’s delivered — getting it in the right spot at the right time — becomes critical.

This quote comes in a February 23, 2009 Advertising Age column reporting on how television marketers are seeing the effectiveness of their profit-seeking behavior-modification efforts increase, despite the times.  [Article title: “Guess Which Medium is as Effective as Ever: TV”]

Notice the reduction of the supposedly holy and wholly sovereign “consumer” here.  In this case, it’s to “fish” swimming past baited hooks.  Just as often, it’s to dogs, frogs, pigs, or chickens.

Them’s the terms of the trade inside the leading institution of cultural planning in America, folks…

Of Boondoggles and the Memory Hole

Remember way back in 2008, when the federal government had to rescue the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, both of which had ruined themselves by making too many mortgage loans during the inflation phase of the housing bubble?  Remember how, way back in 2008, there were campaign promises that the lax lending would be restricted, in order to prevent a recurrence of the implosion?

Guess what.  That’s right:

Seeking to stabilize the foundering housing market, President Obama is offering a plan to help as many as nine million families refinance their mortgages or avoid foreclosure, according to a summary released by the White House on Wednesday morning.

Included in the package is a move to ease some restrictions on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — which guarantee millions of home loans. Generally Fannie and Freddie cannot guarantee refinancing on mortgages valued at more than 80 percent of the home’s worth.

But the president’s plan would remove that restriction on mortgages the lending giants already own or guarantee.  [The New York Times, February 18, 2009]

Dmitry Orlov is right:  The USA’s ultra-decrepit overclass is completely out of real answers.  All it can do is throw new capitalist boondoggles on top of the craters left by the collapse of the old ones.

And, as they do this, they are displaying a truly Orwellian capacity for forgetting yesterday’s ancient history.

Meanwhile, the cravenness and market-totalitarian stupidity of the Obama Administration, which starts right where the buck supposedly stops, is yet more solid proof that, as the great Noam Chomsky says, we live in a one-party state.  There is the Business Party, which has two wings, called “Republicans” and “Democrats.”

Batten down the hatches, folks.  The worst is yet to come, and the flood will be very deep…

Why (Most) Movies Suck

The market totalitarians who call themselves “conservatives” are messing their drawers over the very idea of adding $50 million to the laughably puny $145-million annual budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. “Conservatives,” you see, say they think the NEA is a boondoggle.

Contrast this sense of where boondoggles come from with the excellent recent reportage of New Yorker critic Tad Friend on the workings of the corporate capitalist movie studios — where $50 million, by the way, is less than half of what gets spent there on a single movie, a.k.a. “property,” according to Friend.

As Friend reports:

“Studios now are pimples on the ass of giant conglomerates,” one studio’s president of production says. “So at green-light meetings it’s a bunch of marketing and sales guys giving you educated guesses about what a property might gross.

This, of course, means that:

Marketing considerations shape not only the kind of films studios make but who’s in them—gone are lavish adult dramas with no stars, like the 1982 “Gandhi.”

Even within this situation, which is well-known to industry insiders, if not the general public, there is no doubt what corporate capitalist movies are:

Marketers and filmmakers are often quietly at war. “The most common comment you hear from filmmakers after we’ve done our work is ‘This is not my movie,’ ” Terry Press, a consultant who used to run marketing at Dreamworks SKG, says. “I’d always say, ‘You’re right—this is the movie America wants to see.’ ”

Friend finds the resulting imperatives “unexpected,” but nonetheless does a great job listing them.

Read moreWhy (Most) Movies Suck

Overclasses, Young and Old

Ruling classes rule by exploiting non-ruling classes, but they also age.

When they are young and hungry, they exhibit some ability to sacrifice their own short-term interests for the sake of greater future power.

When ruling classes win big and attain imperial stature, however, sclerosis soon sets in. After a few decades of feasting on the spoils of success, history’s imperial overclasses rapidly grow used to it all and take their seemingly triumphant and unchallengeable position and prerogatives for granted. In the process, they also lose any and all capacities for doing anything but whatever is in their short-term interest.

Eventually, sclerosis turns to necrosis and reaches the upper-class brain. Then, the general decrepitude becomes dementia. At that point, the senescent imperial overclass is no longer even able to remember its own real history. Just-so stories told to fool, scare, and pacify the masses get mistaken for actual truth. Thinking of viable, fresh solutions to the crises that inevitably plague the walking dead then becomes impossible: Counterproductive, more-of-the-same overclass boondoggles are all that anybody “serious” is permitted to talk about.

Doubt this?

If so, I invite you to compare and contrast “our” recent give-away to Wall Street (and next Detroit) with the economic stimulus program just announced by China’s “Communist” capitalists:

China announced a huge economic stimulus plan on Sunday aimed at bolstering its weakening economy, a sweeping move that could also help fight the effects of the global slowdown.

At a time when major infrastructure projects are being put off around the world, China said it would spend an estimated $586 billion over the next two years — roughly 7 percent of its gross domestic product each year — to construct new railways, subways and airports and to rebuild communities devastated by an earthquake in the southwest in May.

The package, announced Sunday evening by the State Council, or cabinet, is the largest economic stimulus effort ever undertaken by the Chinese government.

“Over the past two months, the global financial crisis has been intensifying daily,” the State Council said in a statement. “In expanding investment, we must be fast and heavy-handed.”

China’s package is not comparable to fiscal stimulus measures that are being discussed in Washington. In China, much of the capital for infrastructure improvements comes not from central and local governments but from state banks and state-owned companies that are encouraged to expand more rapidly.

The plan also differs from the $700 billion financial rescue package approved by Congress, which has helped strengthen bank balance sheets but did not directly mandate new lending or support specific investment projects in the United States.

China’s overall government spending remains relatively low as a percentage of economic output compared with the United States and Europe. Yet Beijing maintains far more control over investment trends than Washington does, so it has greater flexibility to increase investment to counter a sharp downturn.

The government said the stimulus would cover 10 areas, including low-income housing, electricity, water, rural infrastructure and projects aimed at environmental protection and technological innovation — all of which could incite consumer spending and bolster the economy. The State Council said the new spending would begin immediately, with $18 billion scheduled for the last quarter of this year.