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July 24, 2007 at 1:35 am

laissez half-emptyism? the cycle never sets on structural reform? capitalism vs. GDP etc…

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There really should be a word for neoliberal eitherorism of this sort. Just as, in the US, tax cuts for the wealthy were first proposed as the only fair thing to do with the federal surplus in the first years of the 2000s, and then, after the economy began to stutter and tank, the only form of economic stimulus sure to bring the feds back into the black, the Economist here greets Europe’s strong economic performance vis a vis the US with a call to Americanizing workplace reform.

Eitherorism, yes, and also pickumandchoozumism. If you are in favor of labor market reform, then the strong performance serves as apt evidence that more reform is needed:

The transformation has been most remarkable in Germany, the biggest European economy, once tarred as “the sick man of Europe”. From 1995 to 2005 German GDP grew at an average of only 1.4% a year. But in the first quarter of 2007 it expanded more than twice as fast, despite a large rise in value-added tax. The 2004 reforms in labour markets and welfare made by the previous government under Gerhard Schröder are bearing fruit. On international definitions, unemployment is down to 6.4%, not much above the level in Britain. German business is doing spectacularly well: the country is again the world’s biggest exporter, profits are at a record, competitiveness has improved sharply.

But if, on the other hand, you take this strong performance as evidence that things are more or less OK the way they are, that there has been enough reform, or even godforbid that European competitiveness is evidence that the relatively “unreformed” European model actually does work, then you are misreading a cyclical effect as an indicator of the effectiveness of policy.

Some Europeans may be tempted to conclude that their economic problems are behind them, their structural faults have been put right—and there is no need for more painful reforms. […] But much of the recovery is really cyclical. When the global economy is registering a fourth successive year of near-5% growth, it would be surprising if the world’s biggest exporter did not benefit; indeed, growth of 3% seems rather modest.

And I think it’s safe to say that the logic deployed in the following paragraph won’t likely be deployed by the Economisers during the next European downturn:

European countries that have introduced radical reforms have usually done so in times of serious economic crisis: Britain in 1979, the Netherlands in 1982, Ireland in 1987, Denmark, Finland and Sweden in the early 1990s. Yet as all these countries found, it is easier to change when times are good, not when they are bad. That is a lesson that Germans, French, Italians and other Europeans should ponder as they bask in today’s sunshine.

So, during the next European recession, we should expect to hear strong advocacy of postponing reform for sunnier times in favor of dosing the economy with some nice state spending, right?

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July 18, 2007 at 12:24 pm

red net

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Excellent piece today on opendemocracy by Richard Barbrook which recounts the strange history of the internet as a US project that arose in reaction to Soviet advances toward cybernetic communism. The most interesting thing – something I’d definitely like to hear even more about – is the way that what would become the internet took its shape in a certain sense under the influence / the pressure of a non-capitalist sense of what it should or might be (The story is rather telegraphic in the piece – I’ve ordered Barbrook’s book tonight to see if it gets more thoroughly fleshed out there…) and then had to be, only afterwards, properly commoditized. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the difficulty it has had in properly commoditizing itself derives from an initial formal insistence on openness, gift-structure, and non-proprietariness.

More to come, from me, I hope, on parallel topics. I’m thinking about writing a longer piece on, what to call it, the persistent intimations of socialist culture in our benighted world.

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July 6, 2007 at 12:09 am

same guy

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June 9, 2007 at 12:33 am

2012

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Rather hilarious stuff today coming out of the release of the 2012 London Olympic symbol logo brand that perfectly illustrates the hooker’s art of marketing come-on and shake-down today. Check out the trajectory of the BBC report:

“It is an invitation to take part and be involved.

“We will host a Games where everyone is invited to join in because they are inspired by the Games to either take part in the many sports, cultural, educational and community events leading up to 2012 or they will be inspired to achieve personal goals.”

Great! I’ll book my tickets and start packing my sneakers.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said: “We want London 2012 not just to be about elite sporting success.

“When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life.

Excellent! I was an OK ballplayer back in the day, and this non-logo brand has really inspired me to get out on the field and, yep, make a positive change in my life. This is going to be great. Do you have any hotel suggestions, or can I stay in the athletes’ condo complex village?

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said: “This is an iconic brand that sums up what London 2012 is all about – an inclusive, welcoming and diverse Games that involves the whole country.

“It takes our values to the world beyond our shores, acting both as an invitation and an inspiration.

I definitely feel invited and inspired! For a second there, I thought you meant I had to be British… And I couldn’t understand wtf the logo brand was meant to be until someone explained it to me (see the 2-0-1-2 in the crazy blotches?) but, look, I’ve got the message. This is my logo brand, and my games, and I am set to act accordingly.


A London 2012 spokeswoman said: “It is not going to be a free for all. There would be conditions to qualify for it.“It is not about giving it out to people so that they do not pay for it. It is about an emblem that could be a stamp of endorsement that really fits in with the legacy of the Games.”

Huh? Wait…. What?

(For more silliness, check out these branding videos here. There’s a lot more to be said about the hideousness of this design and what it means, as well as the “insidery” inclusion of us in the process of making this thing, such as it is, but I’ve gotta get back to work…)

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June 4, 2007 at 12:29 pm

ads without products, products without qualities

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On his IHT blog, Daniel Altman wrote the other day about the strangeness of the big banks’ global advertising campaigns.

If you’ve seen the ubiquitous ad campaigns by HSBC, UBS, Morgan Stanley and others in the world’s airports, highway billboards and television broadcasts, you might be asking the same question. Each one takes a slightly different tack. HSBC says it understands local customs. Morgan Stanley says it knows how the whole world works. UBS says no matter where you do business, the relationship comes down to the bank and you. But their ads often come off as platitudes or truisms. Even if you did business in countries around the world, how would you choose between them?

Economists have always had a problem with advertising that doesn’t seem to tell you much about products. The feelings that these banks are trying to inspire might not even correspond to their services; there’s no way to know until you see what they’re actually offering – which isn’t in the ads. By trying to mobilize customers using feelings that may echo around the world, they’ve sought a one-size-fits-all solution. That approach could be successful, if there’s really a global business class to be targeted. If not, have they simply become too vague to be effective?

Economists have trouble with ads of this sort, of course, because economists have trouble with the aesthetic. Rare is the advertisement that simply fills you in on the utility of the product at hand. The Adidas ad doesn’t really explain the benefits of the shoe – but rather inserts you in an interesting or exotic situation that auratically adheres to the shoe.

I’m not telling you anything new here, of course. But then again, two questions. First, without using the word “aura” (because we’d like to find something more specific and helpful than that), how do we describe the “something else” that the ad brings us instead of the utility of the product for sale? Second, is it possible that whatever this “something else” is that we’re trying to name, it has something deeply in common with what art has always brought us in addition to its informational content? What does this “something else,” in other words, have to do with the aesthetic?

This one (and it is one of the most brilliant ads I’ve ever seen – I can watch it again and again) crosses a nascent geopolitical conflict with an aesthetic tension – a tension, actually, between two unreconcilable aesthetics: the collectivized bodies-as-machines of the Chinese against the pouty individualized hotness of the Americans. (Isn’t this, in a sense, the work that international athletics almost inevitably performs? Jesse Owens’s sole black body against the Riefenstahl logic of Hitler’s review platform etc… War by other means – by means that come closer to the aesthetic register than any other…)

But whatever we make of either ad, it’s tough to make the leaps from the represented content to the qualities of the shoe itself, unless we’re going to take the “Adidas fits all feet – whether lockstep commie ones or open-toe hypermarketed capitalist ones…”

Back to the banks. I still haven’t learned to take pictures on vacation of the interesting stuff that I’d actually like to look over again from the comfort of my home rather than posing the baby again and again in front of tourist sites that she can make neither heads nor tails of, but, yes, I was at Charles de Gaulle yesterday morning and it was absolutely plastered in just the sort of HSBC ads that Altman is describing above. I have no pictures, so we’ll have to go with a few clipped from elsewhere.

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The first one seems to be from CDG itself, the second from HSBC’s NYC campaign, which interestingly highlighted the internationality of the city itself rather than the bank. (In other words, the EU ads are geared at the weirdness of crossing the German-French border on with no stop for passport controls, while the NYC campaign is isolated on the strangeness of crossing the Queensboro Bridge.

The television ads available on Youtube and the like are more helpful, perhaps in getting at the quiddity of this campaign. (You have to wait a bit to get to the punchline of the first…)

Leaving aside the tactical question that Altman asks – whether this is effective as a paradoxically global campaign about the bank’s respect for locality – I am interested in the contents of the ads themselves. What is the relationship between these quasi-fictional situations – these condensed little parapraxes, the petite romances, the perverse detournement of other aesthetic products (such as, in the case of the first, a film about Che Guevara). Think about how surprisingly close – even though there’s still a great distance, of course – the operative fixation of these ads comes to the preoccupations of works like Kafka’s or Woolf’s or Joyce’s. They work, at once, metaphorically (we can understand how to get along with the Chinese, whether in a restaurant or abstractly, via the markets) and literally (through the entertainment value of the vignettes…), which is, in the end, not far off from the model of the work of literature itself…

(Sorry – I have to pull up a bit hurriedly and short here, as I accidentally posted this before it was done, and I’ve got to run…)

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June 1, 2007 at 10:07 am

funkytown

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I’ve loved this ad – even though it was for an energy company – for quite a long time. Always seemed to me to be potentially open for repurposing and.. I really love modularity, just in general. (We see an English version here, of course…)

But lo and behold, the other day when I thought to go to youtube to check if it was available for me to suck down into my archive, I found this:

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May 3, 2007 at 11:01 pm