The Business Machine Economy
December 21, 2020
Mass production has been a means by which to supply us, the masses, with products and services. In a world of so many of us, there has been found, nor perhaps has an alternative been pursued, no other practical way for many things to be supplied to most of us.
It is also received wisdom that mass production necessitates standardisations of goods and services; that is to say, in the most extreme cases, ‘one size to fit all’ purchasers. Again for most of us.
Only those who are special to society’s terms of reference have any hope of attaining to the narrow category of persons for whom personal and considerably bespoke, customised, items of product or service are appropriate.
Maybe a person here and there amongst us, the masses, might treat him/herself to just one or two bespoke items of lifestyle; a high-end TV or maybe a Sound System; even less of us to a special motor car above mass-made standards.
The early adopter of mass production and standardisation, for his cars, was Henry Ford, and he is known for his wry comment on consumer choice: “You can have any colour you want providing it’s black”.
The larger producers, which are often Corporations, and many of which span the world in their reach of supply of goods and services, are such large entities that standardisation has been their only cost/effective way of proceeding in business. Their very largeness precludes any unnecessary internal diversity or flexibility – neither with the management of their mass employees, nor in their administrative and logistical modes of approach, nor in what they can offer a typical customer from our consumer society.
They are so big and unwieldy that their only option so as to be able to function at a profitable level is to make uniform as much as they can, so that procedures become a single, or a small handful ways of approach, of packages, of systems, and to apply these across the board. Even so their reputations are notorious for sheer wastage and redundancy in usage of resources, staff, time, production, and work.
The smaller person in business might find or make for her/himself a niche in the marketplace in which s/he can thrive, and such a niche may allow, might even require, that s/he offers customisations to client customers. Such specialist work is bought at a premium price, but it is valued highly when done well because of the very fact of that personal touch of work and effort put into it by the creators.
Conversely mass produced standardised items tend towards loss of personal value in the eyes of consumers, and this is simply because anyone is able to have one just like it and for the same price; and also because another such item can be bought easily and quickly should the first item be lost or broken etc. One can see in this some of the tendencies through which the ‘throwaway’ and ‘consumerist’culture came about.
As for consumer choice, which is a concept much prized by politicians who are avid about laissez faire political economy; it is a mythical beast rather than a real animal. From merely what I have said to you already, anyone agreeing with me that far has to accept this mythical status as the truth.
Choice if it comes, generally comes in terms of colour, model, price, etc but severely limited choice is available – a half dozen colours, a range of three or four models, and prices usually attach to model types. We have all come to accept and expect this limited choice to be as it is.
True there are companies, including corporations, who in competition with one another produce ranges of goods and services which perform the same or closely similar functions and uses. This fact widens the scope of consumer choice, but only at the point of purchase. Once a person has settled on buying product x from corporation xy, that person is now tied into corporation xy for all after sales services and needs on product x.
Companies, corporations, do deals whereby tying-in consumers is the chief lure in the deal. Recall that time a few years back now when printers for PCs were given away, given away, in stores, simply for a person to go home with that gift and to find that the next ink cartridges that are bought for it are atrociously expensive. This basic ruse is still in commonplace use by companies. And still few of us when we buy a durable item of goods or services checks up beforehand on after-sales and what is on offer at what prices.
Notoriously every computer buff has drawers and drawers of variant various adaptors, connectors, plugs , sockets, and much paraphernalia which fits only one make, one model, of equipment; and the buff never knows when s/he is liable to require an item, nor which item that might be.
I don’t need to go on here – everyone recognises this tactic.
So we have consumer choice – a little – one has to do sometimes considerable homework to get the item, make, model, which suits her/him – at a price reasonable for it being worth buying, and once our choice is made all choice suddenly disappears, or nearly all.
The EU which we here in UK are leaving in a week or so, offers a directive in law which permits small firms unconnected with motor vehicle manufacturers to make and sell spare parts to fit big manufacturers’ cars. This directive was felt desirable and necessary so as to cut through that absolute monopoly on car servicing and maintenance and repairs which the car manufacturers had before the directive came into force and regarding supplying parts . The manufacturers had their consumers over a proverbial barrel hitherto; any sum astronomical could be expected paid for a washer or a split pin; a washer or a split pin specialised in shape or technique to that model of car you had bought, and unable to be had elsewhere, and no rival manufacturers’ parts fitted or served the purpose sufficiently.
Is this not use of customisation – by the back door – and by manufacturers so as to give to them the leverage of great advantage over their customers who might need aftersales? Deliberate customisation to that end. In their defence the manufacturers would decry the fact that otherwise rival companies might supply parts etc for the cars they are making and thus encroach, compete, engulf, on their reasonable turfs.
The idea of standardising parts - say for cars – for those parts which would perform the same regardless more or less across the board, and there are plenty of them, but not those parts which make the product a competitor in the marketplace - this idea is not welcome to manufacturers. One gets specialist wheel nuts and specialist brake pads, often mostly fitting just one vehicle model type only, just like those notorious vacuum cleaner bags one needs to buy, the more specialisation the better, the harder to make the better, like making pound coins forger-proofed, the harder to fit the better, many use specially made tools, and the more expensive the whole package the better.
Just remember the consumer foots the bills for everything; in all public and in all private transactions.
There are with IT equipment USB serial buses, and power leads and sockets etc made standardised. How this came about I don’t know, maybe simply in the same way that VHS made the coup over Betamax back in times of videotape?
But there could be much more saving for the consumer via standardisations, but the loss to the companies and corporations would be unacceptable to them – because any loss is unacceptable to such entities. Conversely any way to gain more than at present is being gained is acceptable to them.
So beforehand to sale, the tendency is towards standardised mass products and services to be offered for sale. The more ‘streamlined’ - a misnomer for ‘one size fits all’ - a company is able to make its production lines, service-provision, means of production, and marketing and sales, then the less cost to it for manufacturing and marketing is sustained by the company.
The pressure then is downwards, for costs - but also for quality relative to cost. Downward pressure on costs need not be and is not always passed on to a consumer. The savings made by a good idea that standardises a little better – well maybe someone high up in the company decides that while his/her company has the advantage over rivals, and rivals don’t know, as yet, of the new perk, that the thing to do is to pocket most of the savings in the company trousers, and that it is sufficient merely to reset selling prices at levels slightly hotter for the competition.
But as for quality worsening, this is always passed down to the consumer and often without warning or notification. Think how many time you have been disappointed by Cadbury’s chocolate bars since that company was taken over by a new mob. Think how Cadbury's in the past 10 years has extended its range of bars to include all sorts of flavours and tastes and combinations which are anathema to chocolate lovers. Chocolate with everything and anything. It seems any excuse is being made to give the consumer less chocolate and more, as much as can be gotten away with, of cheaper and lesser quality fillings. Bars – of chocolate -200gram - sold for £1back then. Today bars of less chocolate and much added treacle and caramel – 100gram - sells for £1.
One sees not just bottles of shampoo diminishing in size – typically 500ml bottles of six months ago are now 350ml - their prices have also increased. Many places do not stock any longer the less costly shampoos. Generic in-store shampoo products are more or less non-existent now. The world is silent on such topics – not good for business to point them up.
I also believe I see a throwaway outlook beginning to be accepted and practised about spending and money. I called a woman shopper’s attention to the price of the bag of masks she had just thrown carelessly into her basket in Lidl yesterday. She saw the bag of (single-use) masks cost nearly seven pounds. She put them back in the aisle counter they came from. When in a toiletries store I watch people, men and women ask for an aftershave or an eau de cologne and pay fifty pounds for a few fluid ounces - ordinary people - and they do not blink at the price. That kind of money will keep my family in food for most of the week - and there are five of us.
I admit I am from another time, and that I value money, and value for money, as a duty to be kept for the sake of stewardship and in adue respect for temperance.
(I do believe when this age is looked back on,if this age gets looked back on, it will show as ‘most weird’ - especially in regard to how the ordinary person in the street is everywhere and routinely *Told What To Do *by authorities – government, companies, social institutions – and in regard to how monitored and how directed and restricted is life as we live it these days. Life itself has become mass-produced and standardised)
But this is my very thesis here. That life, our lives, are now more than ever they have been nearer to being lives mechanically lived, or rather lives which are lived on our behalves for us by the moguls, the media and their publications and broadcasts; and in general by any person or organisation, a Rupert Murdoch or a Tony Blair or Gates Foundation, whatever, who has enough clout to buy a portion of dominance over us.
There’s a phenomenon bruited about here and there and it is known as The Pareto Effect. This Effect states that in any organisation there is a constant level of percentage of members, around 10% who do by far the most, 90% plus, of the work or activity within the organisation. This Pareto Effect might be applied to the world – the human world – our societies. I’d say that 10% of persons own most of the world’s property – as a rough figure. I’d say that 10% of the world’s people actually try to do something – in their own terms meaningful - with their lives, above and beyond getting a humdrum job after schooling, or in farming in undeveloped parts of the world.
I’m not praising these go-getter 10%s by no means; they are outrageously privileged and no rationale or allowance is able to justify that they should be so. Many are fore-destined to such lives because their families and their upbringings have laid nearly all the ground for them to waltz into the Life of Riley. Thus they belong nearer to what used to be called Houses,or in other places Dynasties, rather than to families in the way most of us belong. The Hursts, The Rockefellers, The Gettys, The Kennedys, in the USA are all self-perpetuating World Domination types – and we have ours here in UK also.
This ‘top’ 10% have arranged, are continuing to arrange, the world in their own fashions; and this generally has meant and means and will mean more and more one size fits all for ‘the masses’ the likes of us, and more and more manipulation, direction by command, moving us about like pieces, so as for them to increase and prosper.
This is not conspiracy theory. These House or Dynasties, be they corporate or familial, are not in alliance together, unless for the time being an alliance between certain of them is mutually beneficial to those in alliance; and only to the extent and for that period of time in which the benefits appear to them to be worthwhile. But because they all belong to the same rank of society, and because they all have more or less the same, and long term, aims for themselves and their Houses, they all have the same outlooks and do the same sorts of things as each other. Birds of a feather.
Their aims and activities are dreary – basically to make more money and gain greater control – that’s it. But we 90% who do not want to rule the world or to have piles like J Paul Getty, who would want to win The Lotterybut couldn’t be bothered to work so hard for such ends; we are the saner people, who take life as we find it and live from one day to the next andmuddle through and get by, as Chuck Berry sang, with ‘No Particular Place to Go’.This is the proper attitude to life – not wanting too much, just to keep your head clear of overmuch debt, and to avoid the authorities, and just carry on as usual – what could be more eminently practical, and appropriate to the sort of life humans find themselves in, and in which ‘things just happen willy-nilly’ so just be easy and prepared generally for change and for new developments.
But this eminent practicality of ours is our greatest weakness in the eyes of these rabid and obsessive 10% running us like dogs; and it is this that they exploit so as to use us to increase their own dreary bank balances and extensions on territories.
We have been used by them for our easy-going natures, our pliabilities, our pragmatic flexibilities, and for our general; lackadaisical lassitudes; we have allowed these people and organisations to take us over; and run us like dogs and like machinery.
For a long time now I have seen consumerism and mass production and standardisation not so much as solutions suited to feeding and clothing etc a world; but rather like Richard Dawkins’ perverse view of the genetic code, we are the manufacturers, the manufactures, the machinery and factories wherein and whereby wealth is created for these top 10%s.
We are so impressionable. We are told there will be a Premier League of soccer teams – that it will be super and everything about it super – and great wrestles between broadcasters are fought to gain the televising rights to show live games – heaps upon heaps of so-called merchandise is made and marketed based on Premier League activities and teams – and the Premier League phenomenon grows quickly to become a worldwide and renowned occasion and institution – and we all go along with it – as if it were made for us and is our treat for the enjoying, and given to us by and from the big guys. It’s nothing more than a money making machine. End of story.
Whip up a fervour, celebrate clubs, players, wins, venues, cups, etc, make them a fetish, an idol, a totem, and let the likes of us worship them. The very money which is sloshed around like water in the oceans in the League is part of the draw the attraction the lure -out of our league - so we venerate the rich and famous – whom we have made rich and whom we have made celebrated and famous – as we have been coaxed and lured and instructed to do.
Hollywood is the same formula – as is Formula One – as are the fashion catwalks and houses of New York and Paris and London – as is The Olympics – as is Facebook and Twitter and YouTube – and the whole shebang is a mass following engendered by manipulators, for manipulators.
All of these things every one of them and every iota of them act to take away from the individual power of choice; not just physically in the marketplace, but by their provision of ‘bread and circuses’ our psychological wills to do for ourselves are almost entirely damped down to zero.
We have life provided for us – but it is a half-life – less - a shadow life - in which we are subjects – viewers, listeners, passive recipients, and without say or even awareness of the possibility of a say in what is made and how it is presented. Who do you know who has any influence on what Hollywood produces? Or Apple? Or Google? Or Microsoft? Or the Fashion Houses? Or Formula One. Or The Olympics. Or on who plays for whom in The Premier League? The People’s Game? Tosh! Propaganda! Nonsense!
Yet we believe it, we swallow it hook line and sinker; because we want it to be true – we want to be grateful and to feel ‘looked after’ because we have lost that sense of the inevitable precariousness of life and of its uncertainties. Because everything, even in this stupid situation we are in now, is going along to all appearances ‘normally’ - there’s food in the shops still, and medicines, and the hospitals are working, the NHS, and the essential services continue – gas, electric, water, Fire and Police Services, and such – we don’t see that this is not normal, that the normal is when we are aware of and ready for the fact that there are difficulties and there are going to continue to be difficulties inherent in and to living life.
This sense of torpor goes a long way to explain popular apathy about pollutions and resource scarcities and degradations of environments and species; about natural and man made disasters; even - in UK - about almost anything to do with other countries – we just don’t want to know.
“In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem”
This is not normal. The economy, the national activity of commerce and industry and finance and so on, is a machine – it is a machine which may have been set up -perhaps? - to serve the people in their needs, it is certainly bandied about as being such – but in fact the tail is wagging the dog – we are the commodities along with the timbers and steel and plastics and technology, we are the service providers along with the streamings of companies and the broadcasts of houses and the movies of movie-studios – and we are there in that place of commodity so to be useful, systematically and formulaically useful, to the money beguiled, to the power-struck big guys.
One hears that one should work to live, and that one should get ‘me’ time or get ‘quality time’ or get a work/life balance – but these phrases tell their tale about how we perceive our lives. All time is quality time. Full-stop. Work is prayer. Work is the liberator of men and women from luxury and so from degeneration of a resolve for and a pursuit of a vital life. Work is not a confinement; nor is it a millstone. Our societal organisation and the persons who run it have made work these things. And that ‘me’ or ‘quality’ time - what is it? – too often it is time spent consuming the fare provided for us by people we have never met and will never meet, and which is not chosen by us to be fed to us – except within a limited way – we can change a channel.
When we are doing recreation we are mostly supine and passive imbibers of someone else’s views of life, and someone else’s products and materials. The Copyright and other Intellectual Property laws keep these materials theirs, so that they can siphon money up from us all, as much as and for as long as possible.
The music industry – note it’s called an industry – one of the creative industries – is another scam. We are for the most part consumers, passive listeners, and not active participants in any way. We are The Lotus Eaters.
Much of this intrusion of in-particular large companies and their likes into our personal and family lives is recognised by pundits, and by those who believe they know things. It is sold to us as just another development, but it is a development which had and has movers, who have pushed for and attained it, and who will go on intruding further to get us even more onside with their products and services, which are there to make them money rather than to satisfy our needs. Our society will be looked upon with awe of disbelief, if we get that far forward in the future to look back on it.
We closed down our zoos because we felt animals were too confined. You see the irony?
It’s not like this in developing nations – it’s harder – a shorter lifespan and much more deprivation – but much less regulation and compartmentalisation and containment and generally life though briefer and more harsh and risky is rather more lived than here. Seizing the day.
Ours is poky life – many people walking around not knowing - or rather not realising as they otherwise might have opportunity to – that a life caught up in drugs, and in black economy wheeler-dealings, and in soccer, or fashion, or cars, or sports – and all from a consumer’s point of view – is no life, is a life sentence.