Originally published at: https://pluralistic.net/2021/04/03/ambulatory-wallets/
- Consumerism won't defeat Georgia's Jim Crow: You're not an ambulatory wallet.
- China's antitrust surge: "Consumer welfare" means corporate rule.
- This day in history: None
- Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading
Consumerism won't defeat Georgia's Jim Crow (permalink)
In the 1970s, progressives discovered a shortcut to political change: the boycott. Boycotts had been around for a long time, to be sure, but with industries in relatively weak states, with lots of competitors, the threat of lost business could spur fast action.
Politics were slow and unreliable. Lawsuits were expensive, slow and unreliable. Boycotts were fast, and involved direct, tangible steps that every person could take: redirect your spending from one company to another, make the change.
But as progressive movements ceded the political realm, reactionaries conquered it. Reagan and his successors (including pro-business Dems) enacted laws and policies that encouraged monopolies and weakened labor unions.
40 years later, boycotts are dead.
Hate excessive packaging?
Good news: the grocery aisle has minimal packaging alternatives you can vote your dollars on.
Bad news: these "alternatives" come from the same companies as the high-packaging products you're "voting against."
Boycotts only work when there's competition. As this Simpsons screenshot demonstrates – Duff Lite, Duff Dry and Duff all come from the same pipe.
Likewise: Fox Studios, who made the Simpsons, are now part of Disney.
Don't like Fox? Vote with your dollars on Disney!
Right-wing politics have a problem. If your fundamental belief is that a small number of people should have more (money, power, influence) than everyone else, then by definition, your politics only benefit a minority, and you win elections with majorities.
The right has three tactics to overcome this.
I. It relies on antimajoritarian institutions, like the Electoral College and the Senate. That's why the Dems should absolutely kill the filibuster, which protects Senate power, which is minority power, which is plute power.
II. It suppresses the votes and power of working people, through gerrymandering, poll taxes, voter-roll purges and anti-union rules that shatter the collective power of otherwise atomized and powerless workers.
III. It convinces turkeys to vote for Christmas. Performative culture-war bullshit, white nationalism, transphobic panics, etc – none of these are intrinsic to the right-wing project, but they bring a lot of scared bigots out to vote for dead-eyed corporate rule.
The new Jim Crow law just adopted in Georgia is a perfect example of how these three tactics deliver power to corporate power. It's a voter suppression law, passed by a gerrymandered statehouse that represents a minority of Georgians, which exploits white nationalism.
Remember, the reason corporate America is worried about Georgia is the Black, working-class-led political machine that threatens to enact majority rule in a place whose state and national leaders are essential to inequality-boosting, plute-enriching, worker-destroying rule.
The reason all these red states introduced nearly identical voter-suppression bills is that they all get their laws from the same place: ALEC, a business-backed thinktank that writes and pushes "model legislation" in state- and local governments.
ALEC finds its wins in GOP legislatures, but it gets its funding from a broad cross-section of corporate America, including companies that publicly brief for racial and gender justice.
Now, ALEC has faced something of an exodus, losing members like AT&T and Google, but that doesn't mean that they've divested from ALEC policies.
The politicians who carry water for ALEC are 100% dependent on campaign contributions from orgs like the Chamber of Commerce.
These politicians brief for policies that hurt the majority of Americans, and can only get elected through voter suppression, gerrymandering and appeals to bigotry. There's no other way to win electoral majorities while espousing antimajoritarian policies.
This doesn't mean that corporate execs and employees aren't horrified by Georgia's New Jim Crow law – it just means that they can't do anything about it. Companies that halt donations to the GA GOP will still financially support them, through their industry associations.
It's a perfect macrocosm of the consumer's dilemma: if you rely on money, rather than politics, to accomplish political change, you will never make a change that reduces the power of money in politics. It's impossible to spend your way out of monopoly capitalism.
At best, it's merely useless. At worst, it's a net negative, sucking up the hours you could spend on political change with comparison shopping. As Zephyr Teachout points out in BREAK 'EM UP, what you do matters more than what you spend.
If you're organizing to support union drives, don't waste time shopping to "buy local" for posterboard and markers – they're all manufactured by anti-union monopolists, no matter who sells them. Get whatever's easiest and then go fight the companies in the political realm.
Stop conceiving of yourself as an ambulatory wallet, whose only power comes from where and how you spend – if you only vote your dollars, you'll always lose, because the rich have more dollars than you and so they get more votes.
Keep your eyes on the prize: smashing corporate power. Far more exciting than the MLB boycott of Georgia is the Republican response: GOP hardliners want to take away baseball's antitrust exemption.
If this happens, it will be the absolute best possible outcome – because it represents the shattering of the coalition that makes antimajoritarian politics possible. If the right starts siding with bigots and AGAINST companies, they'll cut their own supply lines.
The voter suppression, gerrymandering and bigotry that the GOP relies on is expensive. It can't exist without corporate power. The reason it exists in the first place is corporate power.
Reinvigorating antitrust as an act of performative culture-war bullshit is the political equivalent of pointing a gun at your own dick to own the libs and then blowing your actual dick off.
These are the fracture lines we need to exploit. They've been proliferating for years. The modern antitrust revival comes out of these fracture lines.
It's an open secret that much of the money and energy for anti-Big Tech trustbusting comes from the cable industry.
Comcast and AT&T hate Google and Facebook, but not for the same reason you or I do. In their view, the billions Googbook make from surveillance, rent-extraction and manipulation have been misapproriated from the telecoms industry.
They have made the catastrophic blunder of betting that if they awaken the slumbering antitrust giant to smash Big Tech, that it will then go back to sleep – and that it certainly won't turn on *them.
This is such galaxy-brain idiocy. Like the public will watch a new army of trustbusters arise to rip apart Googbook and then say, "You know what? I just fucking love Comcast, so whatever you do, don't give them the same treatment."
A bet that after the dust settles, the hard-fighting lawyers, activists, politicans and workers who smashed corporate power in Big Tech will realize that they were only worried about "surveillance capitalism" but were totally cool with all the other kinds of capitalism.
Consumer power is a dead letter. Political power is a live wire. Boycotts are a distraction, even – especially – when giant corporations engage in them.
But the other stuff – strikes, trustbusting, ending financial secrecy – that's where change comes from.
The problem with the world isn't where you shop.
You're not an ambulatory wallet and don't let anyone convince you that you are.
China's antitrust surge (permalink)
When the DoJ broke up AT&T – at long last! – in 1982, apologists for corporate power claimed that they were signing America's death-warrant. AT&T, they claimed, was the US's national champion in an existential battle with Japan.
Japan, we were told, was an authoritarian country, a systemic threat to the world whose fascist aggression had led to untold suffering. What's more, they were copycats, IP thieves, who stole American ingenuity and then undercut American manufacturers.
Sound familiar? It should. It's what Facebook lobbyists are saying about antitrust action against China: "Break us up and you'll cost America its national champion in the existential fight with a remorseless, authoritarian Asian copycat empire."
But the race-baiting yellow peril rhetoric of AT&T's shills was bullshit. AT&T's major project – the thing it used its monopoly power to protect – was the suppression of public access to the internet, because it wanted to maintain centralized telecoms power.
Breaking up AT&T was essential to the spread of public internet access, and that decidedly did *notU cost America the war for technological hegemony with Japan. Monopolists aren't national champions – they are weights around the nation's ankles.
"What's good for GM" was never "what's good for America." At best it was "what's good for the tiny minority of American GM shareholders." It was pretty terrible for everyone else.
Monopolies corrupt politics, translating their excess profits and concentrated decision-making power into political outcomes that benefit themselves irrespective of the costs to the rest of us.
Which explains a lot about Xi Xinping's relationship with China's internet monopolies. Xi recognizes that a monopolized ICT sector vastly simplifies censorship and surveillance – but at the cost of creating vast power-centers that challenge his own decision-making authority.
That's why XI curb-stomped Jack Ma in November, crushing Alibaba/Alipay's dream of going into the loansharking business – Ma made a bid to supplant the Chinese central bank's power over the monetary supply and Xi wasn't having any of it.
Now, China is ramping up its antitrust enforcement against its own tech giants, moving beyond Alibaba to Tencent, Baidu, Didi and other massive companies that Facebook claims it will defend us from.
These companies might serve as China's "national champions," but only to the extent that "What's good for Baidu is good for China." When those interests diverge, Baidu is looking out for Baidu, not Beijing.
This day in history (permalink)
#10yrsago TEDxObserver talk on kids and privacy https://www.theguardian.com/tedx/cory-doctorow-privacy
#5yrsago Panama Papers: Largest leak in history reveals political and business elite hiding trillions in offshore havens https://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/apr/03/the-panama-papers-how-the-worlds-rich-and-famous-hide-their-money-offshore
#5yrsago America’s teachers are being trained in a harsh interrogation technique that produces false confessions https://web.archive.org/web/20160404143447/https://www.alternet.org/education/why-are-k-12-school-leaders-being-trained-coercive-interrogation-techniques/
#5yrsago LA’s new rule: homeless people are only allowed to own one trashcan’s worth of things https://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-apartments-demolished-20160402-story.html
#1yrago Amazon's leaked anti-worker smear plan https://pluralistic.net/2020/04/03/socially-useless-parasite/#christian-smalls
#1yrago The Tea Party killed pandemic preparedness https://pluralistic.net/2020/04/03/socially-useless-parasite/#you-were-warned
Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/).
- A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." Yesterday's progress: 1048 words (48883 total).
Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.
Latest podcast: Past Performance is Not Indicative of Future Results https://craphound.com/news/2021/03/28/past-performance-is-not-indicative-of-future-results/
- All the Teachable Things I Know About Writing, Apr 13, https://www.changinghands.com/event/april2021/virtual-writing-workshop-cory-doctorow-all-teachable-things-i-know-about-writing
Interop: Self-Determination vs Dystopia (FITC), Apr 19-21, https://fitc.ca/presentation/interop/
- The Right to Repair Movement, Monopolies, and Solarpunk
The surveillance state, digital monopolies, and why we should be worried (Podsongs)
Conspiracy Theories (Utopian Horizons):
- "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The Washington Post called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html
"How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)
"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
"Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1562/_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer.html.
- The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022
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