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I read the other day that Disney Corporation is buying Marvel Comics for something over US$4 billion. This has caused me to think about what’s wrong with America today. It’s that the American economy is phony; style and not substance, sizzle and not steak.

It seems to me that “producers” in an economy can choose to output real goods or services (that is, products or services that take on their own economic life and/or have high usefulness), that only kill and destroy (weapons and other outputs of the military-industrial conflict), or simply project image but add no value to anything (such as designer logos). The USA has decided to become a producer in the latter two categories, disdainfully leaving most industrial goods production to what it terms the “developing economies”.

Now Disney will reap enormous profits by licensing Marvel images to be woven into, stamped onto, painted on (presumably some with lead-based paint), etc. all sorts of everyday goods like children’s pajamas, mugs, sneakers and the like by Asian sweatshops and sold to Americans in WalMart and other big-box (i.e.; low-wage/no employee benefit) stores.

It’s been going on for about a generation now. Ralph Lauren licenses its name/logo to just about anything, adding no value but jacking up the price but – and this is important – adding no tangible value whatsoever. I’ve seen Ralph Lauren paintbrushes and color selections at a big-box store and Ralph Lauren eyeglass frames at an optical shop.

An even more egregious example is Donna Karan of New York, whoever she is. Is there a Donna Karan? There never was a Betty Crocker, after all. All that company puts out are baseball caps, t-shirts and sweatshirts and handbags emblazoned with “DKNY” in simple block letters. For that, people pay a premium price! In the process they give DKNY free advertising. The jobs and the money flow from the pockets of Americans (mostly the poor) into corporate coffers and out of the USA through the trade imbalance.

America pays heretofore unimaginable riches to entertainment and sports figures while failing to properly reward those who work and even more shamefully, those who first educate themselves. It compounds the error by providing the wrong example to American children, who then abandon education.

A bit over 30 years ago my wife and I met an Australian living very, very well in the USA. His business: He would follow American buyers around in Asia and after working hours, ply them with liquor to learn at which sweatshops they’d made arrangements to have millions of “label” blue jeans produced. Then he’s go to that producer and arrange for about 10 percent more production of the same thing to secretly be made and sold to him. He’s then import to the US and Europe and sell what was the identical product for a substantial discount (but still a very nice profit, thanks to the huge “designer label” markups normally applied).

Take it from me substance matters more than style. Fashion exists to allow us to laugh at ourselves in 30-year-old photos. Who won last year’s sports championships are the answers to trivia questions. Yes, art and entertainment have aesthetic worth, but the worth must be kept in proper perspective. The USA has failed to do so. I hope Dominica learns from the example.

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1 Comment »

Comment by pete
2009-09-09 13:16:51

Dan,

You said it well. Many things are phony about the US economy and way of life. Those who did not realize that previously, have seen it with the financial scandals and recessioons …But in the end it made the US what it has become. There are good and not so good take aways from it all. It all boils down to greed, creativity and the excess of capitalism. I think I could still be ok with the phony part if the rewards could actually go into sustainable projects that develop humanity. Notwithstanding that, there are still many who have profitted richly from the system, who are giving back….

Unfortunately, we cannot seem to change certain precedences like the salaries paid to sports and entertainment figures – not even in the economical downturn. People still look forward to a release and escape from the tough reality and don’t mind dishing out the fees for a ball game, movie or a cd or a concert…

It will take a social revolution to change anything substantially. Point well taken though – we need to use that as a lesson of education.

 
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