Production is the Issue

Like the book from which it springs, this blog is called “The Consumer Trap.” By this phrase, I mean several things at once. Corporate capitalism is, I contend, a giant historic trap. That is the deepest claim.

But I also mean to protest against the foolish Frankfurt School suggestion that, under our epoch’s over-productive economy, the main strategic locus of politics and society somehow shifted from the boardroom to the bedroom — that we are somehow in an era in which “consumption” (meaning the ways we acquire and use commercial products) is the great question of our age.

This is a rather dull reaction to actual institutions and affairs. Our problem is no less one of macro-choice and investment (aka production) than it ever was. A sea of stuff, non-stop corporate entertainment, and increasingly commercialized off-the-job habits are all trends that emanate from elite dictation, not popular preference. But that is news to Herb Marcuse, who argued the opposite (without ever actually looking).

All of which brings me to this photograph:

That is the back of last night’s pizza box. It is one example of what’s wrong with talking about “consumption.” The manufacturer of this box is, no doubt, one or another major timber-and-paper conglomerate. That entity is certainly all too aware that greasy food containers DO NOT recycle. Yet, as we see here, that knowledge doesn’t lead to retraction of this dishonest little message. Why miss a chance to suppress and combat your customers’ actual concerns?

Corporate product producers are always biased in favor of lying and tricking and cheating to achieve their aims. Until we get back to studying how and why this happens, we will continue to chase our own tails in circles.

Hayek’s Comic Book

I just learned, thanks to a tip by the omnivorous Douglas Pressman of Prague and an article by Bruce Campbell, that, back in 1945, Friedrich Hayek’s wildly naive apology for capitalism, The Road to Serfdom, was made into a comic book promoted by no less a (then as now and evermore) state-dependent corporate capitalist enterprise than General Motors.

Hayek, having only an ultra-abstract textbook understanding of private enterprise, never stopped to wonder about the things his theory elided that were happening right under his nose. Not least among these was, of course, the continuing consolidation of corporate marketing,which is the art and science of applying the principles of scientific management to ordinary people’s off-the-job lives.

As I argue in The Consumer Trap book, the progress and success of this overclass endeavor would make Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini purple with jealousy, if they were around to see it today. Among its many effects is what I call a market totalitarian society, where people are free to do whatever they want, so long as it’s shopping for and using capitalist products (politicians now distinctly included).

Hayek, of course, could not imagine such things would happen, as his view of private business was so deeply naive.  His supposed master work is far less critical and realistic even than Adam Smith, who, in a radically different context with a very different purpose, had written a far subtler, more open-ended, and altogether better defense of business ascendance 168 years before Hayek’s book became the favored intellectual cover for American capitalism.

Even though Hayek framed socialism as a question of class analysis — he equated all possible forms of socialism and even welfare states with feudal servitude — he remained utterly denialist that capitalism is itself a form of class domination, albeit one operating as much through the power relations of “the free market” as through state power.  Hence, here is the hugely ironic — and hilariously embarrassing to Hayek and Hayekians — cartoon from his GM-pushed comic book on the topic of “recreation” planning by the overclass:


“Once started, planners can’t stop.” Precisely, Freidrich, precisely! It’s called the marketing race, a.k.a. the primary form of big business competition. It is quite literally built into corporate capitalism, and can only stop upon the death of that system or the planet on which it operates, whichever comes first.

Can you say “idiot savant”?

The Violence Inherent in the System


In corporate capitalist America, cars-first transportation has always been unquestioned.  As a result, we have spent the largest part of the immense wealth that has flowed through our polarized, brutalized society in the last century building the vast automobile system with which we remain stuck.  It is by far the biggest, costliest public works project in human history — not even close.  It has always been devoted to serving its central purpose, too, which, contrary to long-running propaganda claims, has NOT been transportation, but rather maximum profit for business owners.

Yesterday, The New York Times published a story about new research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  Take a look at the video embedded in this story.  It is heart-stopping, at several levels.

This extreme violence is what we have been trained to accept as not just normal, but “an emblem of the American spirit” and a confirmation that capitalism is the best of all possible social systems.

It won’t be long before we recognize, one way or another, how very insane we’ve been, ecological, socially, and, yes, economically…

The main IIHS finding, by the way, goes unreported by the NYT:

The death rate in 1-3-year-old minicars in multiple-vehicle crashes during 2007 was almost twice as high as the rate in very large cars.  The death rate per million 1-3-year-old minis in single-vehicle crashes during 2007 was 35 compared with 11 per million for very large cars. Even in midsize cars, the death rate in single-vehicle crashes was 17 percent lower than in minicars.

A Cousinly Reminder

Big business marketing, as I explain in The Consumer Trap book, is neither more nor less than the adaption of the classic methods of class-struggle-from-above to the purpose of manipulating the off-the-job experiences and behaviors of so-called “consumers.”

As such, the main tactics are threats, false promises, mindfucks (information shifts), and lies/propaganda.

This explains why so many of the world’s most important political shibboleths are essentially aggressive marketing campaigns.

One particularly momentous example is debunked in this new work by historian Shlomo Sand. Check it out.