Saturday, December 02, 2006


Worshipping The Big Dog

More neocon bloviation from Tech Central Station is provided below, courtesy of me. Let it nowhere be said that this blogger doesn't give the superficial dumbasses of globalist complacency equal time.

The author of this gem starts out by dissing Jim Webb's recent editorial "Class Struggle" in The Wall Street Journal. He counters Mr. Webb's assertion that "manufacturing jobs are disappearing" - which is admittedly a bit dated - by saying that unemployment is still only 4.4 percent, because "American workers are moving from manufacturing to services..." True enough, but what he doesn't mention is that becoming counter help at the local Burger King offers not even a fraction of the rewards of being an assembly line worker at Ford. Oh, but our author anticipates this. "Also, wages are rising," he says. "Employee compensation has climbed over 5.3 percent in the past year." Ummm.... But is it keeping pace with the rising cost of living? He doesn't mention that it does. Is it possible that disproportionately growing compensation at the high end distorts the "mean"? More than likely. Are real wages rising, too? If so, only after declining for five years. I think he ought to deal with these potential gotchas, but he doesn't. He makes this suspiciously unqualified statement simply to counter Mr. Webb's claim that "despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth..." Strangely enough, our author doesn't really contest this. And he gives us his own theory of why income inequality is rising in the U.S.

The gist of his argument is that those who are making all the money are doing so because they are better than the rest of us. Well, of course, he would say this. Tech Central Station is one of the most sycophantic online journals on the Internet. To illustrate his thoughts, the author draws a distinction between "the restaurant economy" and "iPod economy". There are a whole bunch of restaurants in his neighborhood - some cheap, some not. Most people can't afford to eat a meal at the expensive places - and so the star chefs at those boites continue to earn salaries in the very low six figures - chicken feed compared what other types of stars earn. Meanwhile, he can afford to play all sorts of retro crap on his iPod - e.g., Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and, apparently, Paul McCartney. (You wonder how old this guy is, and how stupid this paunchy and grizzled reactionary hipster must look grooving to these antique tunes on his way to work.) Anyway, getting beyond the ad hominem - he makes the point that these music superstars have become so rich because the mechanical arts of reproduction have made their work available to billions, while those poor star chefs can only make actual meals for a comparative handful of people. And all those "lesser artists" - even those whom we might patronizingly deem "of considerable talent" - sell nothing at all.

There are a number of things wrong with this metaphor. One is the assumption is that the best is always what gets mass produced, which is hogwash. It is the most saleable that gets reproduced, period. In the case of great artists, their fame will have preceded the mass merchandising of their works, which only makes them more saleable. Lots of other mass produced items are saleable for far less exalted reasons. They are not necessarily better made - only well enough made, easy to sell, and cheap to copy. The author made a mistake to talk about chefs and restaurants, because one of the most visible mass produced items in the entire economy is the "cuisine" sold by Burger King, McDonalds, Wendy's and the like. No one would call this "cuisine" high quality - few would even call it healthy. It is far worse than the creations of even your "average" star chef, and yet it is everywhere. Interestingly enough, the "chefs" that cook up these burgers and fries happen to be none other than those luckless American workers who have been thrown off the assembly line, and they get paid far less than even those mildly affluent star chefs. The people who get paid the most for mass producing these inferior products probably don't know how to cook at all - they are the CEOs of the junk food industry, who make their fortune not through the quality of their products, but through cynical marketing aimed at the lowest common denominator and ruthless cost cutting all across the board, from labor to materials. So much for our author's sycophantic insistence that the "best" is what always gets mass produced.

He also made a mistake in choosing to evoke iPods and music in his metaphor supporting vast wealth as the natural consequence of mass production and "high quality". Has he forgotten about Napster? Doesn't he realize that one of the factors that has vastly expanded the popularity of digitized music from any source is the ability to steal it without paying the manufacturer? Doesn't he understand that music piracy has become so common that it is threatening the very viability of the music industry?

Thirdly, his assumption that all Americans eschew "lesser" brands or artists or products for the established superstars is now even less true than it ever was. The same explosion in technological expertise that has ramped up our globalized manufacturing economy has resulted in a communications revolution that has not only allowed "lesser" products to connect with "niche" consumers, but has reduced the cost of "mechanical reproduction" to make the manufacture of even small quantities of these products both feasible and profitable. This has been called "the economy of the long tail" - but our author does not appear to have heard about this either. As a matter of fact, the abandonment of "mass markets" and "mass media" has been ongoing for decades and is only accelerating. Someday it may be possible for us to return to those days when everyone could make something that someone else might want to buy.

But these gaffes are not our author's only inadvertent forays into screaming irony. He claims that the "working class" are no longer the ones who "work". "The rich work more," he claims. "The poor less." It is the managers, entrepreneurs, financiers and "brain workers" who are working harder than anybody else, he claims. Yet aren't we "white collar workers" among that group? And haven't our hours - not to mention the pressures upon us - been increasing as downsizing has decimated our ranks? Aren't we working more - not because we want to, nor because we are so valued, but because we, too, now must hustle to survive? The author fails to note that, although white collar workers may be "richer" than the traditional working class, the wildly mushrooming incomes of the truly rich have brought these two groups closer together than ever before. Not only are their incomes more similar, in comparison to the truly rich - they also share the same economic insecurity. The author pretends that white collar workers are an "elite" to use them as a pawn in his argument, when in fact they are part of the new working class - which has become as vulnerable as the old one.

The author of the article at the link below is so comically reactionary that his first response to the charge that globalization is bringing back the 19th century world of robber barons and Satanic mills is to cry out, "What was wrong with the 19th century?" Oh, good sir, from the Irish potato famine to the Opium War to the Manchester factories that inspired Frederich Engels to co-author The Communist Manifesto, let me count the ways... You, on the other hand, are like Robert Browning, chanting "God's in His Heaven, and all's right with The World."

"The New Populism and the iPod Economy" from Tech Central Station

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