By Dennis Loo (6/1/12)
Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone, in a May 23, 2012 article about the collapse of Facebook’s stock within days of their IPO (Initial Public Offering), shedding $25 billion in value, more than the capitalization of Morgan Stanley, one of the banks that protected the initial IPO price on the first day by buying up shares if the price fell below the initial offer amount, recounts:
Henry Blodget, who unfortunately should know about these things, gave a good summary of it all on CBS This Morning:
“I was on the phone last night with a former hedge fund CEO who was talking about this. ‘Facebook,’ he said, ‘is a colossal example of a complete clusterfuck where everybody wins except the ordinary investor.’”
His point was that virtually every week now we see stories like this that hint at a kind of two-tiered market system – in which most of the real action takes place inside an unregulated black-box network of connected insiders who don’t disclose their relationships or their interests, while everyone else, i.e. the regular suckers, live in the more tightly-policed world of prospectuses and quarterly reporting and so on.
As the R.E.M. song “Losing My Religion” puts it:
But that was just a dream
That was just a dream
“Losing My Religion” is subject to many possible interpretations, but for our purposes, I want to talk here about disillusionment, about coming to realize that something was a dream and waking up to the reality.
Occupy Wall Street arose because people got fed up and woke up about the capitalist clusterfuck: the privateers who preach the panacea of the market and anti-regulation/anti-big bad government while sidling up with these big bad bureaucrats to make sure that they will shield their CEO buddies from any real market competition. In other words, we’re talking about world-class hypocrites and plunderers.
That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it
But it’s more than hypocrisy. It’s a system.
As I put it in Globalization and the Demolition of Society:
Ameriprise has a TV ad in which actors portraying Joe and Jane Q. Public declare that once they signed up with Ameriprise and could effect their stock market trades without an intermediary sales agent, they were in charge, as if this conferred upon individual traders control of the stock market—a world notorious for its volatility, insider advantages, and uncertainties. This is similar to a toddler in the woods declaring (assuming he could talk) that he was in charge because his wandering about was entirely up to himself. Capital One’s “Freedom Card” advertising declares that its credit cardholders are “Free! Free! Free!” because they get reward points redeemable for commodities from their credit charges. The idea that greater spending and more indebtedness render you freer exists only in Madison Avenue’s Alice in Wonderland world.
Corporations, mass media, and public officials tell us that the fact that we get to choose what cell phone, what kind of sweetened cola, which pain reliever, what cut of denim jeans, what type of car, and which major party nominee for office we will vote for, means that we are in charge. As Todd Gitlin points out,
Capitalism would work to present consumer sovereignty as the equivalent of freedom. . . . (“If you don’t like TV, turn it off.” “If you don’t like cars, don’t drive them.” “If you don’t like it here, go back to Russia.” “If you don’t like Crest, buy Gleem.” “If you don’t like Republican, vote Democratic.) The assumption that choice among the givens amounts to freedom then becomes the root of the worldwide rationale of the global corporation.
We may as well say that if a Nevada brothel prostitute gets to choose which John she will have sex with next, this means that she is in control.
When Henry Ford introduced the Model T Ford in 1908, he famously declared that consumers could have any color Model T they wanted, as long as it was black. Ford is also famous for introducing what was subsequently dubbed “Fordism”—an assembly-line process that involved speeding up production tremendously (cutting the average time to finished car from twelve hours down to one-and-a-half hours); standardization of product (everyone got the same car); and at its heart a compact between capitalist owners and workers in which workers would be paid better than they had been in the past in return for which they would become the major prop holding up the capitalist economy by buying more heavily. Domestic spending as a result of Fordism grew to make up what is today more than two-thirds of the Gross National Product (GNP) of the US.
Fordism operated in the US from the last decade of the 1800s to the middle of the nineteen seventies. Its eventual supersession by neoliberalism and the proliferation of consumer choices has meant that you no longer only have access to a black car. You can get a lot of different colors and features—as long as it is an internal combustion machine. But the fundamental relationship between capital and the populace delineated by Ford’s statement “you can have any color as long as it’s black” remains: more color choices has not made the consumer into the producer, still less has it made us into the ones who are “in charge.” The process by which corporations decide what they will produce and the shaping of state public policies remain at least once removed from the realm that the consumer and the public occupy.
Moreover, the vast expansion of consumer options—you can find what seem like dozens of kinds of pain relievers in a drug store—masks an ever-deepening decline in the degree of influence and power that consumers, workers, and the citizenry actually exercise in the economy and polity. Consumers—to put this most cogently—are not the equivalent of citizens. Exercising choices about what to consume is a far cry from the duties and potentialities of being a citizen. More to the point, still less is a citizen—in the best and most elevated sense of the term within democratic theory—the source of political sovereignty. (Pp. 221-222)
To those who still cling to hoping that they can forestall or avoid the flood by once again voting for the “lesser evil” – who is not the lesser evil at all but, as Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report aptly puts it, the more “effective evil” – of Barack Obama, take proper note.
But that was just a dream, try, cry, why, try
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream