“We Start at the Top of the Pyramid”

Ne’er were truer words unwittingly spoke.

In explaining his take on the ongoing sacrifice of millions of lives to market totalitarianism’s insistence on preserving private-sector “health insurance” as the only game in town, the creepy coward Tom Daschle told his former US Senate colleagues today that:

“We start at the top of the pyramid and work our way down until the money runs out.”

Daschle was speaking about the provision of medical services, not the wider ranking of political access and socio-economic priorities. Nevertheless, his complaint is precisely accurate as an observation of the basic workings of our market-totalitarian, profits-über-alles society. “We” [read: the leadership stratum] do indeed start at the top of the pyramid, and (very) occasionally work “our” way down one or two steps before announcing that the monies and possibilities have run out.

If you need proof that Daschle by no means acknowledges this larger reality, consider his amazingly stupid purported antidote to “our” problem of top-down medical provision: Daschle thinks “we” can MARKET “our” way out of it:

Mr. Daschle offered a commercial version of how he wanted to market “wellness” in order to emphasize preventative care and to drive down costs.

Toward the end of his short stump speech, Mr. Daschle stressed the value of nutrition and his hopes of emphasizing it to curb obesity and other ailments. He was urged to keep repeating those words.

Sure, yep, right, uh-huh, that’ll work well: In a society where automobiles are the all-but-mandatory means of achieving every task of human mobility longer than 100 feet, and in a nation where commercial media-viewing is the mildly addictive, gargantuanly sponsored, capitalist-preferred runaway #1 leisure-time activity, watching some new TV ads is going to reverse it all! Yes, and there’s cold fusion happening in my coffee cup, too…

American Culture: Jesus Would Never Stop Vomiting

Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede

For all the back-and-forth about “culture wars” in the USA, have you ever noticed that the one thing that never gets included is the war elephant in the room — the huge, lavishly and minutely administered impact of corporate capitalism, market totalitarianism, and runaway commercialism?

Any minimally self-aware or ethically concerned society would call itself to a screaming halt over this appalling, pointless, deeply sick brutality.

Alas, that’s not us…not by a long shot.

Windows 7 as Marketing Spyware

Microsoft just announced its plans for Windows 7. The plan is to get PC users to run software not locally, on their own private machines, but through the internet, on Microsoft’s coming network of super-servers.

Microsoft Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote [will be] used from within standard web browsers.” According to Ray Ozzie, chief software architect at Microsoft, it’s aiming to bring “the best of the web to Windows, and the best of Windows to the web.”

Translated into English, this means that Microsoft is following through on its new CEO Steve Ballmer’s drive to turn Microsoft into the world’s largest gatherer of “marketing data,” a.k.a. detailed knowledge of people’s off-the-job behaviors.

The biggest decision I’ve made — unless we close this Yahoo! deal — the biggest decision I’ve made as CEO is pushing into the business applications area,” Ballmer said. “It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made, and the reason that brings us all here today.”

Ballmer noted that while CRM may stand for customer relationship management, the increasingly broad options available in the technology meant it was re-emerging in various incarnations, managing relationships of all kinds — a phenomenon he referred to as “xRM.

At its presentation of the new system to software developers yesterday, “[o]ne interesting demo was an extension of Microsoft Word that pulled in CRM information…

So, the plan is to invade yet another area of life — word processing and associated computing — and turn it into yet another source of marketing spying.

Market totalitarianism never rests.

Metastasis of the Corporate Panopticon

In a report on how corporate spying and data mining contribute(d) to the general debt-pushed financial implosion, today’s New York Times conveys a bit of news on how the big business marketing juggernaut continues to do what it always does — grow in size and sophistication:

The American information economy has been evolving for decades. Equifax, for example, has been compiling financial histories of consumers for more than a century. Since 1970, use of that data has been regulated by the Federal Trade Commission under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. But Equifax and its rivals started offering new sets of unregulated demographic data over the last decade — not just names, addresses and Social Security numbers of people, but also their marital status, recent births in their family, education history, even the kind of car they own, their television cable service and the magazines they read.

The data agencies start by categorizing consumers into groups. Equifax, for example, says that 115 million Americans are listed in its “Niches 2.0” database. Its “Oodles of Offspring” grouping contains heads of household who make an average of $36,000 a year, are high school graduates and have children, blue-collar jobs and a low home value. People in the “Midlife Munchkins” group make $71,000 a year, have children or grandchildren, white-collar jobs and a high level of education.

In addition to selling these buckets of names, data compilers and banks also employ a variety of methods to estimate the likelihood that people will need new debt, even before they know it themselves.

One technique is called “predictive modeling.” Financial institutions and their consultants might look at who is responding favorably to an existing mailing campaign — one that asks people to refinance their homes, for example — and who has simply thrown the letter in the trash.

The attributes of the people who bite on the offer, like their credit card debt, cash savings and home value, are then plugged into statistical models. Those models then are used for the next round of offers, sent to people with similar financial lives.

The brochure for one Equifax data product, called TargetPoint Predictive Triggers, advertises “advanced profiling techniques” to identify people who show a “statistical propensity to acquire new credit” within 90 days.

An Equifax spokesman said the exact formula was part of the company’s “secret sauce.”

Such is the normal course of affairs in our market totalitarian social order — unceasing, unregulated, and politically undiscussed expansion of the overclass’s capacities to dictate human experience, behavior, and choices.

And, as I argued in The Consumer Trap, the effects of this on individuals are small but very real:

In 2005, Experian, and then rivals Equifax and TransUnion, started selling lists of these consumers to other banks and brokers, whose loan officers would then contact the customer and compete for the loan.

At Visions Marketing Services, a company in Lancaster, Pa., that conducts telemarketing campaigns for banks, mortgage trigger leads were marketing gold during the housing boom.

“We called people who were astounded,” said Alan E. Geller, chief executive of the firm. “They said, ‘I can’t believe you just called me. How did you know we were just getting ready to do that?’ ”

And, as I also argued in the book, the collective impact of having our individual actions scientifically nudged around like this is akin to an attack by a school of piranhas on a wounded animal.

In these days of economic meltdown and mounting pain for the commoners, the fact that this subtle but central and ever-growing kind of coercion is still miles away from anybody’s political agenda speaks volumes about the scale of our predicament.

More Advances in Market Totalitarianism

Even (perhaps especially) in times of economic contraction, big business marketers continue their relentless search for new and improved methods of profitably controlling off-the-job behavior.

Here is a direct quote [via Advertising Age, September 15, 2008] that needs no further explanation:

“Now we have the ability to automate serendipity,” says Dave Morgan, founder of Tacoda, the behavioral-marketing firm sold to AOL in 2007 for a reported $275 million. “Consumers may know things they think they want, but they don’t know for sure what they might want.”

“We no longer have to rely on old cultural prophecies as to who is the right consumer for the right message,” Morgan says. “It no longer has to be microsample-based [à la Nielsen or Simmons]. We now have [total-population] data, and that changes everything. With [those] data, you can know essentially everything. You can find out all the things that are nonintuitive or counterintuitive that are excellent predictors. … There’s a lot of power in that.”