Friday, January 27, 2012 4:55 PM
To the power brokers of America’s right, climate change poses a dire threat to business as usual. Environmentalism, in fact, is seen by many of them as a stalking horse for an even more sinister force: socialism. Progressive thinker Naomi Klein expertly dissects this dynamic in her Nation article “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” explaining why the average modern conservative is terrified silly by the prospect of confronting human-caused climate change:
Responding to climate change requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law. In short, climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative. …
Climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests. There is simply no way to square a belief system that vilifies collective action and venerates total market freedom with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that created and are deepening the crisis.
Klein’s essay is well worth reading for anyone with an environmental consciousness who’s trying to understand why saving the planet sounds so damn scary to some people. I would say it undermines everything they believe in, but as Klein makes abundantly clear, they don’t believe in much of anything except preserving their own privileged, comfortable lifestyles.
After reading Klein’s piece, I didn’t have to go far to find someone willing to buttress her argument from the other side of the spectrum. James Delingpole, the London Telegraph reporter who set off the whole ridiculous “Climategate” imbroglio that allegedly exposed the climate hoax—but in fact did nothing of the sort—is now trotting out a book, Watermelons, apparently meant to capitalize on his hero status to climate-change deniers. He tells the libertarian magazine Reason, apparently without a trace of irony:
I call the book Watermelons because they’re green on the outside but red on the inside. After the Berlin Wall came down, the communist movement, the global leftist movement, was left in a bit of a quandary. They pretty much lost the economic argument. They needed somewhere else to go, and global warming has become the great proxy issue. It enables them to achieve many of the same aims as before but under a cloak of green righteousness. This book, although it is about global warming, is about something in fact much, much bigger than that. It is about a global takeover by fascism, communism, call it what you will; their aims are much the same. It is about control.
So, let’s review. If you’re concerned about the future of humanity and the natural world, and you accept the scientific experts’ consensus that we’re rapidly degrading the planet, and you believe we need to take immediate corrective steps, you’re basically a control freak trying to resurrect communism. Wow. I’m going to go for a walk in the woods and try to wrap my head around this one. Care to join me, comrade?
Sources: The Nation, Reason
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Thursday, December 15, 2011 3:55 PM
Playing off of Elizabeth Warren’s widely publicized quote about taxes (see picture above), the editors at The New Republic take the argument one step further, making a moral case for paying them. Their defense of taxation hinges on two arguments. “The first is distributional,” write the editors. “A civilized society recognizes [that capitalism will create losers as well as winners, often because of forces beyond any individual’s control] and vows to mitigate” that problem. “The second reason we need taxes isn’t about the least fortunate; it’s about public goods.” This is the point Warren made, and the editors at TNR make the same point, asking, “Could Bill Gates have made his fortune without government-financed education and technology?”
It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to taxes. Even the most liberal among us may scoff at their property taxes from year to year. The New Republic’s editorial is a good reminder that, indeed, “Taxes are an act of citizenship. We should all be proud to pay them.”
Source: The New Republic (article only available to subscribers)
Thursday, December 01, 2011 11:08 AM
Jeff Conant, writing for Earth Island Journal, isn’t holding out much hope for COP17, the UN Climate Summit currently happening in Durban, South Africa. And judging by the last two summits in Copenhagen and Cancun, who could blame him. “[N]o matter where you come from,” Conant writes, “if you are actually concerned about the climate crisis, [the UN Climate Summit is] going to be an ugly two weeks.”
For the 99 percent, the climate crisis is neither about settling a scientific debate (the scientists have that pretty well sealed up), nor about safeguarding an already dubious multilateral agenda (if the 16 previous Conferences of Parties haven’t forged a solution, why should we expect one now?) Rather, it is about ethics, about human rights, and specifically the rights that UN parlance calls economic, social and cultural rights (food, water, shelter, health, political participation). For many, in short, the concern in Durban – as in Cancun and Copenhagen previously – is for justice.
The previous climate summits have made it painfully clear that, at the top levels, government ministers, heads of state, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) itself, is more about form than content. Last year, in Cancun, after the spectacular debacle of the failed talks in 2009 at Copenhagen, the concern among global leaders was less about saving the climate than about saving face. Those clamoring for justice in Cancun – a delegation of thousands from civil society – were fenced out, and kept literally miles away from the talks. They were the 99 percent.
Conant’s article doesn’t leave one with a good feeling, finding, as he does, very little in the way of positivity coming from the summit. He points to the Climate Action Network (CAN) as one possible avenue for reform, but quickly dismisses that group with the position of Climate Justice Now!, “the more radical civil society network that sometimes vies with CAN for space inside the negotiations,” that capitalism will be priority number one over justice.
Earth Island Journal
Image by Olivier Tétard, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011 4:51 PM
Remember when buying fair trade meant something revolutionary? These days, purchasing fair trade products is about as subversive as wearing a Rage Against the Machine t-shirt. Heck, you’ll even be able to add “one-of-a-kind handicrafts made by artisans in developing countries” to your online shopping cart on WalMart’s website, according to Huffington Post.
Coffee was one of the first—and most effectively marketed—fair trade products. As I write this, I’m finishing my fourth cup of fair trade coffee this morning—we usually brew two massive pots every day at the Utne Reader office. But fair trade coffee, a certified product meant to supplant the neo-colonial exploitation of farmers in the global South, has done little to impress free trade skeptics and anti-capitalists.
“While it may channel slightly more income into agricultural communities,” writes Ian Hussey for Briarpatch, a feisty, radical Canadian magazine, “it ultimately fails to address the colonial capitalist structures that produce the impoverishment of farmers on an ongoing basis.”
Hussey goes on to bullet-point the moral problems and historical discrepancies that color fair trade economics—including the hemispheric imbalance of international power, ambiguous certification rights, romanticization of the lives of the impoverished, creation of a moral higher ground, and perhaps most important of all, the misperception that buying fair trade is anything but another form of consumerism.
Where Hussey’s screed is brief and boisterous, Sushil Mohan’s Fair Trade Without the Froth, a book published in 2010, is detailed and “dispassionate.” Mohan attempts to determine how beneficial the fair trade movement has been to farmers in underdeveloped countries with a cool, non-ideological, scholarly eye. In the book, Mohan argues against the pot shots lobbed by both fair trade’s supporters and detractors.
One of Mohan’s most interesting lines of research pertains to fair trade supporters’ claim that the monetary markup of certified coffee trickles down to the farmers in Ethiopia and Colombia. As summarized by Karol C. Boudreaux in a review of the book in The Independent Journal:
Unfortunately, the transaction costs associated with the certification process, exporting, marketing, and retailing eat substantially into any benefits producers might receive. Empirical evidence on this point is limited, but it seems that even in the most generous scenario fair-trade producers retain only 25 percent of the price premium; most probably retain significantly less.
“So,” as Boudreaux continues, “contrary to claims, it is not fair trade per se that guarantees producers a steady income; only consumers can do so.”
Swallow that, ethical shoppers.
Sources: Briarpatch, Huffington Post, The Independent Journal
Image by matt.davis, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, October 06, 2011 5:06 PM
It’s true: We’re covering the Occupy Wall Street movement to death over here (and yes, there’s more to come), perhaps because it was granted so little coverage in the first days of its contentious life. Need a primer-cum-rallying-cry? Read Tom Engelhardt’s essay on the movement’s importance. Pointing to a counter argument by political activist and cartoonist Ted Rall, our editor-in-chief David Schimke asks us to consider if Occupy Wall Street is pushing hard enough. Also, we’re trying keeping you up to date on our Twitter and Tumblr feeds.
Occupy Wall Street is straight up the most vocal, progressively populist demonstration in years—yet from the get-go has suffered from poor media portrayal and position articulation issues. OccupyMN’s April Lukes-Streich, answering via e-mail, tries to clear up a few things before the protest occupies the Minneapolis Government Center Plaza on Friday, October 7, and turns it into the People’s Plaza.
Utne Reader: The participants in the Occupy movement often come from either a background in local activism or a background in Anonymous, the hacktivist group. What is your activism background?
April Lukes-Streich: I’m unaffiliated with any activist group or organization, but have been a longtime political activist and blogger.
:What personally draws you to the Occupy movement? What are your personal motivations?
ALS: I was inspired by the recent occupation of the Madison, Wisc., Capitol building, and realized at that point that with the erosion of our voting rights by way of gerrymandering congressional districts, changing electoral college procedures, and voter ID laws—not to mention the corporate and moneyed influence in politics on both sides of the political aisle—that being present together is really the only chance we have to reclaim our voices to ensure meaningful participation in our political and economic system and the democratic process. I am continually personally inspired by a desire to reform our economic system in a way that ensures fairness for all participants. I cannot speak for all participants and know many to disagree with me, as we come from varied political philosophies, but I am strongly critical of the capitalist economic system and wish to see reform.
: The media has portrayed the Occupy Wall Street movement as somewhat directionless, lacking a central message. In your words, what is the central message of Occupy Wall Street?
ALS: That our movement is seen as directionless or lacking a central message is something that confuses a lot of participants, and I believe rightly so. As many have noted, if it’s unclear to anyone why we’re protesting, they’re not paying attention. Our economic system is in shambles, people are out of work and deep in debt with no discernible solution in the foreseeable future. The unified message of OccupyMN is “People Before Profits,” and we are continually working on lists of common goals. But because we wish to give voice to the 99 percent of Americans who do not currently have a meaningful voice in politics and economics in America, we are unable to present a list of cohesive demands in the way that many people seem to think we should. Ordinary people of all political persuasions are part of the 99 percent; what we want is not to all agree on policy or legislative issues, but to bring voice to the people to engage in meaningful, constructive debate about these issues without moneyed interests influencing the process and manipulating ordinary citizens.
This is a different kind of movement than any other we’ve seen. The process is new to everyone, participants and observers alike.
: Another criticism of the Occupy movement is that it has largely been the pursuit of well-educated, middle-class, white people. Has OccupyMN reached out to groups with cause for concern—minority, unemployed, disabled, etc.—to engage them with the movement/issues?
ALS: OccupyMN is very aware of these issues that are all too often present in activism and of the criticism. We are making every effort to reach out to all minority communities and ensure that folks from privileged backgrounds—namely white, middle-class men—are not dominating the conversation and direction of the movement. Our group is unified in this attempt and we expect to achieve the goal of making sure that everyone has a chance to speak and be a part of the decision-making process through our daily General Assemblies that we will have on the Plaza.
: What are some specific reforms that you’d like to see come about as a result of the Occupy movement?
ALS: I can’t speak for the entire group, but I would personally like to see election financing reform, an end to corporate personhood, and an overhaul of our tax system, including fairly taxing capital gains and instituting a nationwide corporate income tax. I would also like to see an honest conversation about the effectiveness and fairness of the capitalist system.
: Downtown Minneapolis is home to many corporate headquarters and business campuses of large banks—Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, etc.—as well as a Federal Reserve building. Why is OccupyMN demonstrating in Government Plaza with all of these symbolic institutions around?
ALS: Our group voted during our first public forum at Stevens Square Park to move the occupation from the Federal Reserve to the Government Center Plaza for mainly logistical reasons. While occupying the area surrounding the Federal Reserve would be appropriately symbolic, we do not expect that we would have been allowed to remain there. The Government Center Plaza is public property, does not require a permit, and is in the heart of the financial district. We are not protesting at a bank because, beside being private property that we’d surely be arrested for occupying, rendering the movement effectively worthless, we are not protesting any one bank. We’re protesting the entire system, which leaves us without a meaningful voice. We believe that public, taxpayer-funded property is the most realistic place to achieve this goal.
: Is non-violent protesting the only course of action that OccupyMN is taking in the movement, or are there any plans for behind-scenes-work like lobbying and community outreach?
ALS: Many members of our organizational team, as well as countless other participants, are individually involved in lobbying and community outreach, but as a group/movement, we have not yet made plans for behind-the-scenes action. We are compelled to occupy primarily because our exhaustive efforts to lobby and outreach are not working. We need to be heard before we are able to change policies.
: What does success—either immediate or long-term—look like for you?
ALS: I will see success when I see meaningful reform to our economic and political structure. How this will happen, we have yet to know. First, we simply demand to be heard. I believe that, because of this widespread movement, we will be.
Monday, August 15, 2011 4:32 PM
The assumption that human beings are inherently selfish—interested in the greater good only when it serves their own interests—has long-influenced capitalism’s most prominent thinkers (Adam Smith, Alan Greenspan, Gordon Gekko) and served as a litmus test for modern America’s so-called political realists. Employees are best motivated with bags of carrots and a big stick. Without law there is no order, and without the threat of punishment there is no law. We’re all out for number one. Greed is good. Dogs eat dogs.
Just turn on the news anytime of the day or night. The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming.
A compelling counter-narrative is emerging, however. In the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, Yochai Benkler points to “recent research in evolutionary biology, psychology, sociology, political science, and experimental economics [that suggests] people behave far less selfishly than most assume.”
“Evolutionary biologists and psychologists have even found neural and, possibly, genetic evidence of a human predisposition to cooperate,” he writes.
In the piece, “The Unselfish Gene,” Benkler, a Harvard law professor and author of The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest (Crown Business, 2011), aims to reach executives and managers who he believes must abandon traditional motivational strategies in favor of techniques that “rely on engagement, communication, and a sense of common purpose and identity.” Along the way, though, he points to scientific discoveries and psychological theories that will engage any reader who pines for collective solutions to common problems.
In one cited experiment revolving around cooperative behavior, for example, a majority of subjects consistently behaved cooperatively (some when treated reciprocally, others even when it came at a personal cost). In another revealing set of studies, participants showed that traditional incentives, such as monetary awards and the threat of punishment, actually hampered productivity and discouraged engagement. This can be explained in part by neuroscience that shows that cooperation, when chosen freely, simply makes people feel good.
“No, we are not all Mother Teresa; if we were, we wouldn’t have heard of her,” Benkler says. “However, a majority of human beings are more willing to be cooperative, trustworthy, and generous than the dominant model has permitted us to assume. If we recognize that, we can build efficient systems by relying on our better selves rather than optimizing our worst. We can do better.”
Source: Harvard Business Review
Image by lumaxart, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 21, 2010 5:41 PM
Oliver Stone is not a subtle filmmaker. His projects, like the director himself, tend to voice bold opinions and provoke strong responses—and his latest, South of the Border, about the new wave of leftist leaders in Latin America, is no different. Critic Rob Nelson calls the film a “countermyth” to prevailing media coverage and came away impressed by its entertainment value if not its evenhandedness. Fellow critic Anthony Kaufman, however, also writing on Utne.com, sees the film as crossing over into “counterpropaganda,” glossing over Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s human rights abuses with its “reductive calculations.” Apparently, asking people how they liked the film is like asking them who shot J.F.K.: You’ll get a different answer every time. —The Editors
A suitably flashy attraction at the Cannes Film Festival last month, director Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps stars Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan as a young Manhattan power-couple facing the potential loss of its fortune—and that of a hot commodity in utero. A next-generation Wall Street in more ways than one, the bloated sequel finds Stone staring down the global economic crisis for two and a half hours, only to conclude that what the world needs now is . . . more babies!
Luckily for fans of the intermittently radical filmmaker, another new Stone movie has arrived this year with somewhat more to say about the evils of predatory capitalism. South of the Border, Stone’s documentary tour of Latin America, fingers the International Monetary Fund for its role in oppressing the economies of Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, and four other Latin countries. The director’s hero is Hugo Chavez, and his enemy is the mainstream media, which has vilified the Venezuelan president for daring to resist the pull of U.S.-led corporate interests.
Not to say that Stone has left his Hollywood credentials at home. South of the Border often plays like a nostalgic star vehicle for the camera-loving Chavez, whom Stone at one point directs to mount a kid’s tiny bike and tool it around the modest backyard where he used to play with his grandma. Elsewhere on the road trip, the filmmaker chews coca leaves and kicks a soccer ball with Bolivian president Evo Morales, and cheekily offers to broker a deal on behalf of Paraguayan leader Fernando Lugo. “Chavez would make you a loan,” Stone assures Lugo, “if I talked to him.” (Money never sleeps, indeed.)
That Stone appears more of a celebrity journalist than an investigative one hardly diminishes the documentary’s value, at least not as entertainment. Admiringly regarding Chavez as a “bull,” Stone has made a movie that’s entirely of a piece with his 2003 hagiography of Fidel Castro, Comandante, whose HBO producers deemed too fawning for broadcast.
Stone, whom HBO persuaded to ask tougher questions of Castro in a substitute doc called Looking for Fidel, has been mostly silent on the sad fate of Comandante. But judging from South of the Border, a Cinema Libre release that strongly implicates CNN in the promulgation of anti-Chavez propaganda, the director might say that Time-Warner-owned networks have a problem with one-sided reportage only when it comes from the left.
“Millions of people watch these [cable news networks] consistently, night and day, throughout North America,” Stone announces at the start of South of the Border. “Do they believe what they see?” The film’s opening salvo includes a George W. Bush-era CNN report that “leftist menace” Chavez had “ripped off” ExxonMobil—by establishing his nation’s own multibillion-dollar oil project. (Only weeks ago did an international court finally rule in favor of Venezuela in ExxonMobil’s lawsuit.)
As much a countermyth as Stone’s JFK, South of the Border salutes what it sees as a new hotbed of radical energy. The film expresses solidarity not only with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela—the world’s third largest supplier of petroleum—but with other Latin American nations that support Chavez’s model of independence from U.S. economic influence.
Albeit more fun than stimulating, Stone’s documentary is forceful enough to have inspired blowback even before its opening in New York this Friday. An item posted this week by James Hirsen on Examiner.com delights at the news that South of the Border has bombed in Venezuelan theaters, and jokes that Stone needn’t worry because the film will be a “big hit with Ivy League Marxist professors, socialist public union leaders and the 27 people who watch MSNBC.” Millions of CNN fans will likely prefer Stone’s other new film, Money Never Sleeps, wherein even Michael Douglas’s greedy Gordon Gekko proves capable of spiritual redemption.
Photo by Jose Ibanez, courtesy of South of the Border.
Friday, April 09, 2010 4:20 PM
In our May-June issue, we feature the work of Jinnie English, a social worker and psychotherapist who specializes in supporting high-powered executives who were once poor. Hidden behind the trappings of success (expensive clothes, a fancy home), her clients “have a lot of psychodynamic issues,” English told University of Chicago Magazine. They’re still dealing with “the internal struggle of being poor.”
It’s not just successful corporate types, however, that have to deal with the dynamics of wealth. Financial security—and what having it or not having it means to us, on a personal level—are subjects that simply don’t get enough frank conversation in our culture.
Enter Enough, the vivid conversation project from Dean Spade and Tyrone Boucher, two folks we named Utne Reader visionaries in our November-December. 2009 issue. Enough is a website, an open forum, where people share stories and thoughts about the personal politics of capitalism, wealth, and class.
Bonus: In the same issue of the magazine, we also profiled Partha Dasgupta, a visionary economist who takes issue with the gross domestic product for the things not included in the calculation: environment, education, and human welfare, for example. Dasgupta’s “inclusive wealth” measure wraps in those missing elements.
Image by P/\UL, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, October 19, 2009 5:32 PM
Greed in American society is often named as the cause of the financial crisis and a fundamental aspect of capitalism. Both staunch defenders and firebrand opponents of the free market believe that capitalism is based on the idea that “greed is good.” Conservative capitalist Jay W. Richards disagrees. Writing for the business-cheerleading, neo-conservative magazine The American, Richards argues greed is not good. It’s not even capitalism.
Capitalism works because it “channels proper self-interest as well as selfishness into socially desirable outcomes,” Richards writes. He quotes Adam Smith, saying that capitalism leads people toward the public good “in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity,” rather than because of it.
The reason why Richards attacks greed is to defend capitalism from the likes of Jim Wallis and others who argue that people must choose between capitalism and Judeo-Christian values. What Richards doesn’t address is how society can rein in the greed he decries as “not good.”
Source: The American
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Sunday, August 09, 2009 5:31 PM
Writing for Foreign Policy, Reihan Salam declares that the global dominance of men has come to an end. And what caused this “monumental shift of power from men to women”? Salam argues that the Great Recession is a “mortal blow to the macho men’s club called finance capitalism.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, men lost 80% of total jobs lost since November. Men struggle to deal with the mental effects of job loss, and the world increasingly looks to women for leadership:
Indeed, it’s now fair to say that the most enduring legacy of the Great Recession will not be the death of Wall Street. It will not be the death of finance. And it will not be the death of capitalism. These ideas and institutions will live on. What will not survive is macho. And the choice men will have to make, whether to accept or fight this new fact of history, will have seismic effects for all of humanity—women as well as men.
Although not all countries will respond by throwing the male bums out, the backlash is real—and it is global. The great shift of power from males to females is likely to be dramatically accelerated by the economic crisis, as more people realize that the aggressive, risk-seeking behavior that has enabled men to entrench their power—the cult of macho—has now proven destructive and unsustainable in a globalized world.
Source: Foreign Policy
Image by Elsie esq., licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, May 07, 2009 2:30 PM
Friends and family will tell you: Marriage is work. Keeping two people in a fulfilling relationship is difficult, while adultery comes naturally, the CrimethInc Collective write in Briarpatch. The problem, according to the article that "borrows liberally" from Against Love by Laura Kipnis, is that marriage turns relationships into “a domestic factory policed by rigid shop-floor discipline designed to keep wives and husbands chained to the machinery of responsible reproduction.”
Marriage resembles a market system, according to the article: “your intimacy is governed by scarcity, threats, and programmed prohibitions, and protected ideologically by assurances that there are no viable alternatives.”
Rather than make yourself a slave to the system, the article advocates cheating—and cheating openly. Sure, people will get hurt, but people always get hurt when the status-quo is upset.
Even if you don’t believe that marriage is tool of capitalist oppression, defenses of cheating are proliferating wildly on the internet. The irreverent Jewish site Jewcy recently published an interview with the founder of Shaindy.com, a site designed for “Religious Jewish married people, who are looking for some excitement outside of their marriage.” The founder claims that more than 3,000 chat or messages are sent between the sites members every day.
The idea is reminiscent of this video by Dane Cook on how to keep a marriage alive for more than 55 years:
, licensed under
Sources: Briarpatch, Jewcy
Monday, April 20, 2009 11:06 AM
Marketers are doing some serious soul searching these days. It’s all over the pages of the January-February issue of the marketing industry magazine The Hub, as the people who sell stuff reflect on just what it is they’re supposed to be selling now. There’s a vague recognition that the correct answer is not “the same old crap,” but bold and definitive answers are scarce as the writers struggle mightily to break free of marketing speak and deeply embedded consumerist values. And every one of the essayists closes with a conclusion that only a marketer could concoct:
Spencer Hapoienu writes that marketing is in need of an overhaul in “The Obama Challenge.” Despite the crass subheadline—“One should never waste a crisis … and by all accounts this one will be a doozy”—Hapoienu asks a high-minded question: “Is there a way that every brand can participate in improving the lives of its customers beyond simply selling a product?” He suggests that being greener is a key goal, but undermines his point by positing that Procter & Gamble set the bar for value-added marketing with its repositioning of Pampers a few years ago. (Google “disposable diapers” and “landfill” to find out how much value they add to the planet.) Conclusion: “This time is a new opportunity for marketing to lead, leaving a mark every brand can be proud of, while creating a fan base of enthusiastic and grateful customers.”
Tim Manners also starts from a reflective position in “Crisis of Relevance”: “As marketers, we owe it to ourselves, our shoppers and, yes, our country, to take a good hard look at how we may have contributed to the sad state of our economy today.” He suggests marketers need to figure out how to “help solve people’s problems and … live happier lives.” But he too rests his case on specious examples: “Dunkin’ Donuts makes a difference by serving up a workaday pink-and-orange cup of joe. … Kleenex innovated its way to relevance by adding germ-killers to its tissues. … Levi’s innovated its way to relevance by coming up with wardrobe solutions for men.” If overhyped coffee, medicated tissues, and Dockers are the answer to our crisis, we’re in more serious trouble than I thought. Conclusion: “This is a painful moment for marketers, no doubt about it. But it is also a moment when those of us who live up to all our chatter about being relevant will flourish.”
Dori Molitor puts an upbeat motivational-speech spin on things in “Everyone Matters,” which posits that “we all want to know that our lives have a purpose that’s larger than ourselves.” She steps up and criticizes many companies for failing to change their ways, but again her vision of a better world fails to inspire. She notes two recent cases in which retail salespeople helped her and her daughter solve pressing fashion dilemmas: One employee delivered a missing belt to their house after work, and another went “on break” to help her find what she wanted at a competitor’s store. Apparently, the future of retail is low-paid employees doing customers favors while off the clock. Conclusion: “Every ounce of my being believes that the greatest opportunity for brands is to help us live better, more purposeful lives. Treating us like we matter is a huge step in that direction and sometimes it’s as simple as looking us in the eye and being yourself. Humanity is all it takes.”
Wednesday, May 28, 2008 10:50 AM
The Family, also known as the Fellowship, is a shadowy fundamentalist Christian organization that holds unknown influence in the halls of American power, according to writer and religion expert Jeff Sharlet. His new book, The Family delves into the organization, exposing members and their ideology.
The organization practices a form of “Biblical capitalism,” discussed by Sharlet in an interview on Bloggingheads.tv with Will Wilkinson, a research fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. In a perversion of both religion and capitalism, members of the Family use the organization to manipulate power for their personal gain. At the same time, members talk about sacrificing themselves to God, turning over all responsibility for their actions to Christianity as a “self-interest proxy.” Sharlet insists that many members are sincere in their beliefs, yet Wilkinson questions how people can be “sincerely self-deluded for self-aggrandizing purposes.”
Tuesday, April 22, 2008 11:30 AM
The kernel at the core of every conventional economic model is alluringly simple: Growth is good. But due in large part to our planet’s finite resources, this premise is fundamentally flawed, the April issue of the Ecologist points out in an enlightening group of stories dubbed “The Earth vs. the Economy” (articles not available online) that call into question everything we’ve been taught about goods and services, supply and demand.
“When Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, life was hard, the world vast and the supply depot of nature seemed without limit. . . . How could goods lead to anything but good?” writes Jonathan Rowe in the leadoff article, “The End of Economics.”
“More than two centuries later, that assumption no longer works. . . . The connection between wealth and weal, goods and good, has become increasingly frayed,” he posits. Rowe goes on to construct a withering critique of prevailing economic thought and describe the “epidemic of market-related disease” that is sickening both humans and the planet.
In subsequent articles, ecological economist Herman E. Daly puts forth the framework of a new economic model, and Andrew Simms points out that the current British recession (sound familiar?) may present “a good time for a rethink” of old assumptions. Simms reminds us that such thinking isn’t entirely new, or even all that radical: Forty years ago, he notes, Robert Kennedy famously pointed out that the GNP measures everything “except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Wednesday, February 06, 2008 9:18 AM
The claim that mass consumerism is killing the planet isn’t new, but perhaps it’s best made by French author Hervé Kempf. In an article from the French-Canadian newspaper Le Devoir translated on the website Truthout, Louis-Gilles Francoeur highlights the relationship between economics and the environment explored in Kempf’s new book, Comment les riches détruisent la planète (How the Rich Destroy the Planet).* Kempf sees economic disparity and ecological destruction as symptoms of a single disease: capitalism. The system’s rigidity makes it incapable of supporting the changes needed to remedy our present environmental crisis, Kempf believes, and the only solution is to “bring down the rich.”
* Correction: Due to an editing error, the newspaper Le Devoir was originally identified as French. It is French Canadian.
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