The Actual Use of Corporate Capital

Any guesses what this graphic depicts?:

That is the percentage of free cash flow the firms included in the S&P 500 Index spent across the 2010s buying back their own shares, according to Bloomberg Business Week.

This is not an error or an optical illusion.

To say it again: From 2010 through 2019, U.S.-based big businesses, as a group, spent more than half their net profits buying back claims to their own future profits — i.e. helping their future shareholders extract even more wealth from forthcoming corporate endeavors. More than half.

Compare this fact to your Adam Smith model, pro-capitalist friends.

The Age of the Floss Dispenser

In an essay titled “The Tyranny of Small Decisions,” none other than Alfred E. Kahn once noted that

[m]onopoly elements may cause the buyer to be presented with excessively narrow choices that do not correctly reflect that actual costs of the competing alternatives; and the result may be an uneconomic spiral of product quality changes over time [and] so-called ‘product inflation.’

In order to keep the money flowing, in other words, big business interests “may” use their clout to ignore and suppress achingly obvious macro-choices, while pushing increasingly trivial micro-choices.

Behold, then, this:

That, friends, is one of our glorious economic system’s newest offerings. It is a $20 dental floss dispenser.

Nuff said.

The Scourge of Hyperhidrosis

carpe lotion ad image Sweaty hands: Where would anybody sane rank this on the list of humanity’s current problems? What does the fact that new, heavily promoted package goods to combat sweaty hands are now much more on the agenda than, say, serious ecological reforms imply about corporate capitalism and its highly engineered socio-cultural order?

The new product that prompts this question is Carpe Hand Anti-Perspirant, which, if one is gullible enough to believe the public story of the stuff’s inventors, was created because people urgently needed it:

For years, hyperhidrosis treatment required multiple visits to a doctor or dermatologist. Individuals often had little choice but to dedicate ample amounts of time and money to hyperhidrosis treatment at a medical facility.

Ever the heroes, our valiant entrepreneurs — TRIGGER WARNING: the story involves graphic tales of “a lot of people were wiping their palms on their clothes” — knew of this crisis and pursued a solution:

However, an increased focus in hyperhidrosis research and product development has produced methods to treat hyperhidrosis in the comfort of your own home.

The research that led to this wondrous breakthrough? Turns out, it is organized by an MBA, and takes surveys of its own conference attendees to document the disease to which it claims to be responding.

As Preacher Daniel told the folks in Matewan, draw your own conclusions.

This Exists: ABC Pants

rube-goldberg-pic Great news! For the low, low price of only $128, you could purchase this desperately needed corporate product. Yes, these are — in the phrasing of the corporate maker — “anti-ball crushing” pants! At last!

This begs the question of which is more telling and hilarious: 1) the claim that pants, in themselves, have ever harmed or even mildly disturbed anybody’s testes, or 2) the product’s pre-literate promise to crush anti-ball.

Either way, such is the stuff of late corporate capitalism. As burnt forest falls from the sky, the only problems getting solved are the shareholders’ pending quarterly claims.

Not, of course, that the corporate marketers will ever admit this. Consider this shameless lie from Lululemon, the wondrous seller of ABC Pants:

Why We Made This

You’ve got room to move in these quick-drying, four-way stretch pants.

If you believe that, I can also get you a great deal on a bridge in Brooklyn. LULU “made this” because, like all big businesses, it desperately needs to find new ways to commodify human perceptions and activities — i.e., to create phony needs.

Marketing as a Share of GDP

dollar-eye Nobody knows for sure what percentage of overall (so-called) economic activity now goes into marketing. As reported in The Consumer Trap book, experts in the early 1990s guesstimated that it was something like 1/7. Because even that probably didn’t including the share of expenses of actual production that are explained by marketing considerations, that, stunning a number as it was, was probably a severe under-statement.

In any event, here is some new data from Gartner, Inc. on this important topic:

Marketing leaders surveyed estimate their budgets, on average, total 12% of revenue, marking the third consecutive year of increases in Gartner’s CMO Spend Survey results. Larger companies tend to spend a higher proportion of their revenue on marketing — 13% at companies with more than $5 billion in annual revenue versus 10% at smaller companies that have $250 million to $500 million in annual revenue.

This, again, doesn’t count the costs of marketing’s penetration into production. But, generally speaking, it corroborates the idea that a huge chunk of corporate capitalism’s output is marketing/social engineering/economic waste.

Pure Propaganda

Teads.tv, aptly near in several senses to Turds.tv, has the chutzpah to vocalize corporate capitalist dogma without a shred of shame. According to these hawkers, not only is the present content of the mass media in the United States “great,” but only through the current system of advertising-based production and distribution could we get any content at all. Take a look:

Beneath this amazing video, Teads tries to complain about public ignorance and ingratitude:

According to Teads research, 68% of consumers underestimate the amount of revenue that advertising contributes to media sites. The tendency to devalue the significance of ads might relate to the fact that many display and video units are designed without regard for the user-experience. Such units are interruptive to online activities, and too many of them can severely compromise a website’s look and appeal. To avoid these types of ads, many users have installed ad blockers—a move that removes frustrating online ads, but also cuts off the revenue that online content producers need to keep publishing great content.

Of course, the other way to read that 68% number is as evidence of overclass success at keeping the nature of its totalitarianism out of the public eye. Are folks ungrateful for capitalism’s great media gifts, or do capitalists want nothing to do with public consideration and supervision of basic media policies and practices? When people learn the facts about “the significance of ads,” do they get happy, or pissed off?

TCT suggests that the Teadsters may have swallowed their own bullshit a bit too deeply. As more seasoned and mature overclass forces know all too well, when it comes to the core institutional facts about big business marketing, an informed public would be an irate public.

As for the supposedly advertiser-desired open and honest debate of how our media works and the universe of alternatives, TCT says bring it on.

And while we’re at it, anybody want to make the video for “Imagine the Future if Advertisers Continue to Rule”? It ain’t a pretty picture.