The TCT Diagnosis

bray What’s happening? The unacknowledged but totally real, labor-theory-of-value vindicating end of the Reagan Experiment. That’s what.

All sponsored by the vicious, genocidal, ultra-stupid American ruling class and managed by both wings of its purchased two-partied duopoly, in this market-totalitarian society, all formally presided over by a whored-out fool who makes Stepin Fetchit look like an amateur at the trade. Not a pretty picture…not a happy future.

Sisyphus Had it Easy

sisyphus Except in boom phases, the economic terms of capitalism always get worse for commoners.  (We won’t think about ecology for now.)

This is most true in recessions, when capitalists redouble their efforts to expand their gross profit margins.

And, voilá — today’s New York Times reports as follows:

The broadest measure of the overall economy grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.2 percent in the first quarter of 2010, after gains of 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 and 2.2 percent in the third quarter.

While the expansion in output was welcome, it still has not brought the level of hiring growth needed to recover ground lost during the recession.

But as the unemployment rate has hovered around 10 percent for the last eight months — most recently it was 9.7 percent in March — concern about the job situation has persisted.

Even though any pickup in business is welcome, modest improvement may not be enough to ease the lasting pain caused by the so-called Great Recession, many economists say.

Consumer spending grew at an annual rate of 3.6 percent in the first part of the year.

Hiring only recently began to materialize, with the economy adding 162,000 jobs on net in March, of which 48,000 were temporary Census-related positions. The economy had destroyed about eight million jobs since the recession began in December 2007.

In standard NYT procedure, the overall tone of the story is one of mystified concern, with lead and conclusion both conveying muddled non-interpretations.  As usual, the actual explanation is there, but buried in a single, hurried mid-story paragraph:

Businesses have found ways to make more with fewer resources, meaning that they have been able so far to meet additional demand for their products without bringing on many new workers. Companies are also sitting on a tremendous amount of cash, economists say, and appear unwilling to spend it.

In economic terms, what’s happened is that, in these lean times, our “entrepreneurial” overclass has indeed “found ways” to boost productivity, which is the amount of GDP produced per hour by the U.S. workforce.

In fact, according a recent estimate published by The Conference Board, in 2009, U.S. productivity grew by 2.5 percent in 2009, while overall GDP fell by 2.5 percent.  Hence, the overclass was able to produce 2.5 percent less wealth while paying for 5.1 percent fewer hours of labor.

What this means is that there is not going to be any serious job growth unless the economy grows faster than 5 percent (the point these days at which labor demand would start overtaking capitalists’ ability to produce more with fewer employees) for a sustained period.

From a working class perspective, this means that, every year, as capital become more labor-efficient, the size of the boom it would take to bring back decent times for workers gets bigger, and hence, less likely.

(What all that means for the planet’s ecospheres is an equally important and damning topic.)

That’s the facts, Jack.

Items from the Ad Age Annual

Advertising Age has just published its annual review of the basic size and scope of the advertising industry in the year 2009.  As always, it includes some (though certainly not full) information about the size and scope of big business marketing, the wider managerial discipline of which advertising is but a part.

Some key pieces of information from this December 28, 2009 issue:

→Ad Age labels the economic conditions of the past year or so “the worst recession of your life,” and pronounces that “it is over.”  (See cover at left.)

From being sick and watching lots of TV this past week, I can assure you that this “it is over” mantra is now de rigeuer in corporate communications.  We shall see whether that’s accurate, or a rather major case of whistling in the graveyard.

→”Ad spending in 2009 suffered its sharpest drop since the Great Depression: -12.9%.  This recession also marked the first time since the 1930s that U.S. ad spending declined for two consecutive years.”

For what it’s worth, much of this historic decline reflected what Ad Age calls “a freefall in local advertising” due mostly to the decline of automobile dealership advertising.  This speaks to the continuing centrality of the auto-industrial complex within the corporate capitalist order.

→2009 saw “the first decline [in the overall revenue of the Top 100 media corporations] since Ad Age began ranking media firms in 1981.”

This fact is very powerful evidence of the ever-increasing penetration of commercial image-projection within everyday life in the United States.  No wonder TV addiction continues to worsen, despite the appalling awfulness, narrowness, and fourth-rate derivateness of the vast majority of commercial-media content.  (Spongebob, “Squid on Strike,” being a major exception!)

→Overall, marketing continues to grow faster (and decline later and less) than its advertising sub-component.   Ad Age reports that, while ad agency revenues shrank by 9.7 percent in 2009, those of “marketing services” firms fell by only 2.4 percent.

→Jobs in ad agencies are subject to the usual corporate capitalist logic:  While ad agency revenues fell by 9.7 percent in 2009, ad agency employment shrank by 14%!

Can you say “Investors first, last, and always!”?

→In 2009, employment in “marketing consulting” and public relations was 202,200, while it was only 161,500 in advertising agencies.

Again, this confirms that marketing tends to grow faster than advertising, which itself tends to grow faster than the overall economy.

→For 2009, Ad Age estimates total U.S. advertising spending by the Top 100 advertisers was $102.6 billion.  That is more than two-thirds of total ad spending in the U.S., which Ad Age pegs at just under $150 billion.

Ah, Love Those Market Reforms…

Remember “welfare reform?”  You know, the capitalist’s wet dream it took a Democratic Party regime to deliver?

Guess what?  Yep:

WASHINGTON — Despite soaring unemployment and the worst economic crisis in decades, 18 states cut their welfare rolls last year, and nationally the number of people receiving cash assistance remained at or near the lowest in more than 40 years.

The trends, based on an analysis of new state data collected by The New York Times, raise questions about how well a revamped welfare system with great state discretion is responding to growing hardships.

Michigan cut its welfare rolls 13 percent, though it was one of two states whose October unemployment rate topped 9 percent. Rhode Island, the other, had the nation’s largest welfare decline, 17 percent.

Of the 12 states where joblessness grew most rapidly, eight reduced or kept constant the number of people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the main cash welfare program for families with children. Nationally, for the 12 months ending October 2008, the rolls inched up a fraction of 1 percent.

The deepening recession offers a fresh challenge to the program, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 amid bitter protest and became one of the most closely watched social experiments in modern memory.

The program, which mostly serves single mothers, ended a 60-year-old entitlement to cash aid, replacing it with time limits and work requirements, and giving states latitude to discourage people from joining the welfare rolls. While it was widely praised in the boom years that followed, skeptics warned it would fail the needy when times turned tough.

Makes one eager for the coming Democrat-mandated glories like calling still more semantic tricks “health care reform,” including the open possibility of making it illegal to not purchase private “health insurance,” and “finally” getting down to “reforming” the utterly functional, distinctively non-broken (except for the regressiveness of its dedicated tax) Social Security system, doesn’t it?

“Pain” Reaches the Overclass

One way to understand the connection between corporate capitalism and social classes is to think of it in terms of the “last hired, first fired” problem faced by victims of racism. In reality, the racial version of the first/last process is part of a larger class patterning, in which the prior possession of money, education, and other assets places people in different places in the social line-up.

Corporate capitalism, of course, exists to enrich corporate shareholders. In practice, because the ownership of corporate shares and claims is so radically concentrated at the top, the normal operation of the system primarily* serves those who are already established, rich and mega-rich “major” investors.

But the inequality of wealth and income is not the whole story. There is also a huge inequality of timing that occurs: As big business performs its core function of further enriching the already rich, it also generates powerful differences in peoples’ first/last situations.

For the working class — those who have little or no accumulated wealth, and therefore have no choice but to seek paid work in order to survive — corporate capitalism ensures that the pain of bad economic times will hit first and hardest. Lay-offs, pay cuts, debt collectors, eviction notices, shrinking government programs, suffering schools — such is the stuff of recession for most people. In other words, the class of those who must find a job, any job, is always the first to suffer, and the last to “prosper.” (Note the parentheses.)

So how do things go at the top of the social pyramid, where major investors own a huge chunk of the nation’s income-generating assets and only work when they choose to do so? Well, check out this story from today’ s New York Times. In a story titled “In Rare Miss, G.E. Profits Fall Short,” the Times reports the tragic facts of recession at the top:

General Electric reported a 5.8 percent decline in first-quarter profit on Friday, falling far short of expectations and stunning investors who consider the company one of the nation’s most reliable earners….a company known for rarely missing its estimates,.

The company reported net income of $4.3 billion for the quarter, or 43 cents a share, down from $4.57 billion, or 44 cents a share, in the period a year earlier. Analysts had been expecting about 51 cents a share in net earnings, and the company had projected earnings of 50 to 53 cents a share.

As he fielded questions from disgruntled analysts on a conference call Friday morning, Mr. Immelt insisted that “the core business remains solid.” But he acknowledged that recent financial developments, including the collapse of Bear Stearns, took a severe toll. Earnings at the company’s financial services operation plummeted 19 percent for the quarter.

Mr. Immelt said he regretted the poor performance. “We hate missing our numbers,” he said.

Months and months after hiring has halted and the must-workers have lost jobs and homes at an accelrating pace, the overclass starts to receive (perhaps) a shade less property income from one of its Old Faithfuls.

In other words, the first to prosper are the last to “suffer.” (Note well the parentheses.)

*In his generally apologetic Pulitzer Prize-winning 1977 book, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business, Harvard business historian Alfred D. Chandler admitted that the super-rich “remain the primary beneficiaries” of corporate enterprise.

Recession/Depression: No Break from Marketing Cancer

bread linesAs the late, great Marvin Harris wrote, despite their (somewhat) changing tactics and technologies, ruling classes have always had only one basic strategy: intensification. When times are good, pour it on; when times are tough, pour it in on even harder. (See Harris’ Cannibals and Kings for the basic explanation of this very strong historical tendency.)

Big business marketing is, of course, merely the newest form of class-struggle-from-above, a.k.a. the latest weapon in the 6,000-year run of regimes based on overseers deploying threats and promises to make underlying populations’ thoughts and behaviors comport with the entrenched interests of great wealth and power.

For those trying to resist the destruction of the ecosystem and human culture — and corporate marketing greatly accelerates both these processes — it is vital not only to recognize marketing as a branch of systematic elite coercion (rather than of the much-advertised but still little-delivered freedom of choice), but also to note that, as such, marketing is fully subject to the intensification principle of class domination. When times get economically tough, big business planners work even harder to manipulate ordinary people into shopping (remember: watching commercial TV, by far the #1 “free time” activity in the nation, is merely a disguised form of shopping) and buying in prescribed ways:

Right on cue, the latest issue of Advertising Age has a story called “Recession Can Be a Marketer’s Friend.”

[R]ecession ‘[makes] the stakes higher,’ said David Rubin, brand manager on the U.S. launch and now director of U.S. hair-care marketing for Unilever. ‘Consumers are forced to make tougher choices when the economy is bad, and the role of marketing just gets amplified.’

The same story quotes a former McDonald’s marketer on the same point:

My response [to recession] has always been that when you go through periods of stress, that’s when you really have to go after top-notch, high-quality people, and really go out and market like crazy.

The lesson here is that there is simply no break from the further commercialization and commodification of the world. It is built into corporate capitalism, the world be damned.