Friday, August 15, 2014

The Bright and Shiny Lumpen Professional Class of the Post-Industrial Age

For Karl Marx, the lumpenproletariat -- I love the sound of the word, "lumpen" -- is the lowest stratum of the industrial working class, including also such undesirables as tramps and criminals.

The members of the Lumpenproletariat—this “social scum,” said Marx—are not only disinclined to participate in revolutionary activities with their “rightful brethren,” the proletariat, but also tend to act as the “bribed tools of reactionary intrigue.”

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I wonder what he would think of those well-paid, well-educated, employees of the state, usually with defined benefits pension plans, that make the system run and are as about inclined to bringing about any meaningful change to the present status quo as the "social scum" of Marx's day were inclined to participate in his so-called revolutionary activities.

Just as the lumpens of olden days gave no second thought to the well-being of the population at large, the same could be said of the bright and shiny lumpens of the post-industrial age.

Marx got it wrong.  Capitalism is much more resilient than he ever dreamed of.  There is no inevitability to its collapse in the foreseeable future.  Instead, increasing productivity brought on by technological change drives a deep wedge into what he believed to be the existing solidarity of the so-called working class.

Pay those who would otherwise "rouse the rabble" well enough so that the gulf between classes separates those who make the system run, (elected officials, school administrators, senior bureaucrats, doctors, lawyers, etc.) from those that the system is supposed to serve, the vast majority of those who have to work for a living, and you have figuratively cut the head, those who could lead, from the body politic.

Those who are able to climb the rungs of our meritocracy are much more inclined to pursue the material rewards that their taxpayer-funded salaries afford than to serve the real interests of those whose lives are affected by the quality of the social services that the state offers.

In other words, make the system run, not so that it runs well -- that would require a significant redistribution of wealth -- but that it runs well enough so that nothing emerges that would challenge the ever increasing share of the nation's wealth that is destined for those who never have to work for a living.

In exchange, the bright and shiny lumpen get a much cheaper and much more scaled down version of the lifestyle that the haute bourgeoisie enjoy, especially if two of the bright and shiny lumpens decide to marry and raise a family.

In this case, the lumpen couple can afford to live in a neighbourhood that offers a social milieu very favorable to the development of their children: daycare, schools, summer camps, access to private schools if necessary, and family vacations abroad, which gives them a huge advantage in performing well in our meritocracy.

Just as material wealth is transferred from generation to another, so are the soft skills and competencies that enable people to earn higher salaries.

Indeed, research shows that the only factor that is of importance in the prediction of the child’s educational attainment is the education of the parents. Most importantly, the children of parents with less than high school education are much less likely to proceed beyond high school than are the children of parents at other educational levels. And the children of parents with university degrees are much more likely to complete university themselves than are the children of parents with lesser education.

In general, people don't tend to marry others with lower socio-economic status.  As a result, those who could make a difference to the plight of Marx's proletariat don't make a difference.  They are too busy looking after themselves and their own.

With regard to being effective agents of social change, the bright and shiny lumpen professional class is as about as useless as Marx's lumpenproletariat for the former will never bite the hand that feeds it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Weight Loss Industry In North America Is Built Upon A Web Of Lies And Deceit

According to the data by Marketdata Enterprises, a market research firm that specializes in tracking niche markets, Americans spend north of $60 billion annually to try to lose pounds, on everything from paying for gym memberships and joining weight-loss programs to drinking diet soda.

Considering that as of 2012, the US led the way in obesity rates among OECD countries with Mexico a close second and Canada sixth, it would appear that the potential profit within this industry is, for lack of a better word  -- enormous.

How is that so many people could become so overweight and have such difficulty shedding the unwanted pounds, so many dollars spent with so little to show with regard to sustained weight loss?

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Well to begin, when it comes to food choices, the North American public was told one of, if not the biggest lie in the history of public health.  In short, they were told that if they wanted to avoid cardiovascular disease, they should eat a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.  As a result, North Americans reduced their consumption of saturated fat and at the same time increased their consumption of trans fat and the simple carbohydrates proffered by the food industry, even though that research demonstrates that neither saturated fat nor cholesterol correlates with increased levels of morbidity.

To say the least, this change in the North American diet was an unmitigated disaster for the population at large, but was most certainly a boon for the weight loss industry. 

For example, between 1980 and 2000, obesity rates doubled among adults in the United States. About 60 million adults, or 30% of the adult population, are now obese.

Similarly since 1980, overweight rates have doubled among children and tripled among adolescents – increasing the number of years they are exposed to the health risks of obesity.
Direct health costs attributable to obesity have been estimated at $52 billion in 1995 and $75 billion in 2003.
In other words, there is a ton of money to be made once the population gets fattened up: some of it goes to the health care industry while another share makes it way to the weight loss industry.
Once declared obese, an individual is then subjected to the bogus promises of the benefits of following the latest diet or dietary supplement.
First, another deceitful line of reasoning must be planted into the unsuspecting mind:
when it comes to body weight, calorie intake minus calorie expenditure equals calories stored.
No shit Sherlock!  That's like saying that rich people are ones that make more money than they spend. 
Here comes the kicker: surrounded by tempting foods, we overeat, consuming more calories than we can burn off, and the excess is deposited as fat.
The simple solution is to exert willpower and eat less, which is another way of saying "go on a diet, you fat fuck!"
The problem is that this advice doesn’t work, at least not for most people over the long term.  According to Dr. Mark Hyman, the average person gains five pounds for every diet that they go on.

Even worse, when the lose weight, they lose muscle and fat. When they regain the weight, they gain back all fat. And since muscle burns seven times as many calories as fat, their metabolism is slower than when they started the diet, meaning that for 95% of those that set out on this course of action will be worse off than when they started.

Talk about repeat customers. 

Having been set up to fail, the average person, convinced that it is just a question of willpower and finding the right miracle diet, oblivious of the effect that dieting has on his or her endocrine system, is easily duped into buying the latest weight loss method endorsed by a celebrity spokesperson.
Too bad, we don't often hear the rather simple method of maintaining a healthy weight: be physically active (10,000 + steps a day) and eat a balanced diet like the Mediterean diet.

Such sound advice with so few takers.

Not enough hype.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Truth Be Told: The Rich Don't Give A Shit About The Economy That You Live In

It never ceases to amaze me that we continue with the charade of watching how the economy performs.  Last week, we learned that the American economy grew by a whopping four percent during the last quarter.

Whoopee shit!

Am I supposed to fall off my chair thinking about what a great job those in charge are doing in managing the economy?

Yeah, pretty much.  That way you don't give much thought to what really matters: for the last 35 years the vast majority of Americans have been shafted royally.

Think about it.  Since 1980 the US economy has grown roughly 4% annually.

Yet, during the same time the population at large faces what is at best an uncertain future.

Three things strike me to be a lot more important than the rate of annual economic growth.

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First, the percentage of workers that have defined-benefits pension plans has shrunk from 60% in 1980 to about 11% today.  This represents a massive reduction in the quality of life for an aging population, especially when we consider the vast wave  of baby boomers that are and will be retiring in the next 25 years.

Second, the cost of a university education has created an emerging generation of wage slaves.  Since 1985, the overall consumer price index has risen 115% while the college education inflation rate has risen nearly 500%.  Pursuing the American dream by obtaining a higher education has become a debt trap.  Indeed, low paying, precarious employment does not generate the revenue to pay down the debt and to provide for a middle class lifestyle.  Consequently, a great many millennials do not have the means to move of their parents' basements in order to make it out on their own.

Third, income growth has stalled for most Americans.  At $51,017, the real median household income in 2012 is even less than it was at the end of the eighties ($51,681) and down from 9% from its high in 1999 ($56,080).  Conversely, during this period (2009 to 2012), 95 percent of all income growth went to the top 1 percent of income earners.

Clearly, something is amiss and it what needs to be pointed out is that the scale of the problem suggests that it's not just a question of not following the right economic policies as would the progressive economists like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich would have us believe.

What's really at issue is that the super rich, those who make it on the Forbes list of the top 400 wealthy Americans, are no longer dependent on the performance of the American economy to increase their wealth.

Yes, there is still a great amount of money to be made from selling goods and services to the top 20% of American income earners, more so since production can be sent off shore where wages are significantly less, and corporations can be inverted so that on paper they appear to be owned in jurisdictions where the tax rates are lower.

But over and above these ploys that leave the majority of Americans out of the wealth generating loop, even greater returns can be had in the financial sector.  After all, it makes much better sense to pursue a greater return on investment in a sector that is not exposed to the risks of unfavorable economic performance and, in fact, has the risk of failure (too big to let fail) underwritten by the government and the American taxpayer.

What a sweet deal!!!

Seen from this perspective, the latest economic reports are of little or no significance.  What matters is what happening in the investment portfolios of those at the top of the food chain. 

And let's face it, the game is rigged in their favor.  Hedge fund managers can only make billions if they are able to make even more for their clients while the little guy is left to fend for himself, trying to sell his labour in a market in which there are less and less buyers.

So why bother?

In short, it keeps the natives from getting restless.  As long as progress can be shown on the economic front widespread financial difficulties within the population can be dismissed as nothing more than personal failure.

In other words, as long as the majority of Americans give credence to the existing economic discourse they remain effectively sedated.

So much so, they are unable to oppose the massive wealth extraction that is taking place by means of sustained wealth redistribution enacted through the political process.

As well, the population through their tax dollars continue to fund the largest military force ever assembled to protect American interests (American capital) abroad.

The overclass in America has never has it so good.

All it takes is a little statistical smoke and mirrors.