Vinod's Blog
Random musings from a libertarian, tech geek...
Thursday, December 19, 2002 - 09:33 AM Permanent link for No Logo
No Logo
I read No Logo  about a year ago in a serious attempt to understand the anti-Globalization movement.   In the days before 9/11 and Fonte's formulation of Transnational Progressivism, the Anti-Globalization folks seemed to be the most interesting left-wing "contender" to Liberal Democracy + Capitalism as a governance paradigm.

I honestly forced myself to read it cover-to-cover and be open to it's message....  I was *really* hoping to find the intellectual bedrock of anti-globalization (which the book is purported to be).  Unfortunately, No Logo was filled with some of the most idiotic, knee-jerk, non-economic arguments about, well, economics I'd ever seen put into print.  As hard as I tried, I just couldn't excorciate the lessons of the past 300 yrs of economics inquiry out of my system.

The following anecdote is totally exemplary of the nonsense in the book and stuck with me long after reading it.   It's captures the logic train that makes Klein believe that "all consumers are victims".   In this case, an incredibly self righteous social worker visited youth at a Bronx neighborhood social center and was annoyed with how many of them were wearing Nikes.   He decided they were wearing shoes that "they couldn't afford and which their parents couldn't afford." 

His solution was to cajole the children into a letter writing campaign to Nike which included such gems of wisdom as  [No Logo, pg 372]:

"I just bought a pair of Nikes for $100", one kid wrote.   "It's not right what you're doing.   A fair price would have been $30.   Could you please send me back $70?"  When the company answered the kids with a form letter, "That's when we got really angry and started putting together the protest... "

Reading it now even makes my stomach turn and the vein in my forehead begin to throb.   Why the hell did the kid buy the shoes for $100 in the first place?   Why does he think Nike owes him for his own stupidity if he (only now) doesn't think the shoes are worth $100?   Can't he just return the shoes and get all $100 back?   Why should he get to demand the shoes AND have Nike conform to his prices?  

And worst of all -- how can social workers and Naomi Klein be so intellectually reckless as to elevate this kind of thinking onto a pedestal?

The first paragraph in the book sets the pseudo-intellectual tone [p 3]

The astronomical growth in the wealth and cultural influence of multi-national corporations over the last 15 years can arguably be traced back to a single, seeming innocuous idea developed by management theorists in the mid-1980s:  that successful corporations must primarily produce brands, as opposed to products.

And there lies the core tenuous thread in her story -- that consumers are victims of raging multi-national corporations.   Companies aren't selling things anymore, they are using seductive, irrresistable psychic powers on an unweary public.   Actually, Naomi can't quite decide for herself if consumers (e.g. the sheep who haven't read her book) are complicit in the power of brands or if brands are useless, futile abstractions employed by PHB's in corporate America.   Her anecdotes straddle both sides of the fence.

Other tracts in the book agonize over:

  • the "temp-ing" of America -- reduction in lifetime employment from corporate hosts
  • "race to the bottom" globalization -- the relocating factories to lower wage regions
  • brand virtualization -- companies like Nike, whose employees are largely marketing with production outsourced to subcontractors
  • exploitation of suburbia -- by companies like Starbucks and Walmart who viciously build out storefronts to maximize revenue from a community
  • corporate profits over living wages -- that corporate fat cats reduce employee benefits to fluff up the top line
  • marketing ubiquity -- that every available horizontal or vertical surface is being bought to display an ad impression

The appendix of the book is packed with deeply self-evident scientific proof of Klein's theories.   Data points like Wal-Mart's growing annual revenues, the # of Starbucks outlets, and advertising spending by corporations.

There's only one problem with Klein's litany -- it simply doesn't add up.   Poverty is at it's lowest levels globally since the dawn of history.   Suburban American wealth & purchasing power is simply stratospheric relative to 20, 30, or 40 years ago.   Wealth for most of the (well-governed) 3rd world is astronomic vs. 40 years ago. 

The ratio between corporate profits and personal wages has remained basically constant for the past 40 years.  Companies like Starbucks and Walmart are bringing products and services that were once the exclusive purview of the rich into the middle and even lower classes.   Starbucks doesn't "invade" a neighborhood and force consumers to shop there.   The consumers themselves are equally complicit in Starbucks' sin of success.

In fact, just about the only references to economic reality were a few disparaging references to economists who [p 228]

...spin the mounting revelations of corporate abuse, claiming that sweatshops are not a sign of eroded rights but a signal that prosperity is just around the corner.   "My concern," said famed Harvard economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, "is not that there are too many sweathsops but there are too few...those are precisely the jobs that were the stepping stones for Singapore and Hong Kong and those are the jobs that have to come to Africa to get them out of back-breaking rural poverty... Krugman concurred "The overwhelming mainstream view among economists is that the growth of this kind of employment is tremendous good news for the world's poor."

It's quite telling that this was the first passage in the book where i finally said "right on!".   Thusly revealed is the real target of Klein's missionary zeal -- the essence of economics itself. 

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