Monthly Archives: August 2011

Manufacturers’ Blues

What Should We Be Making?

Today’s theme on the news feed seems to be manufacturing. Pleaides forwards this number here on Crikey behind a subscription wall. The salient bit is worth quoting so here it is:

But, as much as people didn’t want to lose jobs, most could see that the jig was up — that there was something absurd about making shoes in Collingwood, dresses in Redfern, fabric in Footscray — when they could be done so much cheaper elsewhere. On that, there was a broad deal of implicit agreement between the neoliberal elites and the masses.

The difficulty now, for both major parties supporting this move, is that it’s a one-time deal. Like a diet that goes too far — cutting first fat, and then muscle and organ tissue — the obsessive free trade/comparative advantage mantra makes no distinction about what is being lost. In that, it wilfully blinds itself with the abstract generalities of economic theory, to its particular effects on the ground, and how they are viewed. The  public lacks that bias, and retains its willingness to take things on a case-by-case basis.

Thus, the evisceration of manufacturing could proceed in the Keating era, because everyone could see the sense of it — there was no compelling collective reason we needed to produce our own shoes (though there may be all sorts of social and cultural reasons for it) and most people can see that. But steel is a different matter, and most people can see that too.

That one raises a few questions. First of all, when we sub out our manufacturing to the cheaper countries, do they hold to our standards? Anecdotally at least it seems this is not so. All our detailed standards for steel specifications are hardly met by the steelworks in China and South Korea. They churn out crap steel that ends up causing more problems when we buy their product. I’ve even seen this in a licensed Floyd Rose bridge on an electric guitar where a steel saddle snapped in half. That’s not supposed to happen.

Anyway, the point is not to bash Chinese steel, but you get my point. Once we sub out an industry like steel making, then we’re vulnerable to the crappy product standards of the developing world. We might be willing to live with that in fabrics (it’s uncomfortable but it hasn’t killed anybody has it?) but can we live with that arrangement with something like steel? In a sense, there’s a lot of value added to the steel that comes out of our steel works, simply by having higher standards of specification.

Then there’s Michael Pascoe:

Various people have cited the Barbienomics lesson in recent years, but to the best of my knowledge credit for it belongs to a Hong Kong University post-grad student of Professor Michael Enright. Barbienomics was part of Enright’s presentation at an AICD conference in Shanghai in 2007.

In brief, the student worked across the border in a factory that made Barbie dolls for Mattel. American protectionists seemed to have a particular focus on Chinese toy manufacturers at the time, so the student broke down where the value was in a Barbie doll when it was purchased from an American store.

In rough numbers, the brand – Mattel’s trade mark, the Barbie name and design, the intellectual property – captured 40 per cent of the value. The retailer grabbed another 40 per cent. Parts and materials accounted for about 10 per cent. Logistics, moving Barbie from the factory to the shop, took six or seven per cent, leaving just three or four per cent for the assembly.

Displayed as a graph with a smiling Barbie, the plastic doll effectively asked the audience an obvious question: which part of value capture is most worth having, which part least?
At the time, Chinese were asking just what America was complaining about when China’s factories were capturing so little of the value and doing so much of the work.

Now, that’s interesting information right there. In pursuit of profits, companies will move manufacturing to developing nations, but the point of moving such labor is to pay so little for labour costs it can take a bigger slice of the margins. The furore surrounding Pacific Brands in the last few years was essentially a move to do exactly that. Our cheaper apparel shops are flooded with goods from China but the the analysis quoted above suggests that 40% of the price goes to the brand, another 40% goes to the retailer and the labourers in China or wherever ends up with 6-7% of that pie. This is exactly why being marketed to by brand is a terrible thing for our own personal finances. You can count on the fact that well over 50% of the ticket goes to the brand and retailer for our pleasure of them being who they are and having it in a shop we can get to.

Try Apple for size.

We have become slaves to Apple’s brand, which, according to the research company Millward Brown, today makes up more than half the company’s $US350 billion ($328 billion) book value. By and large, what Apple makes, we buy – unquestioningly.

The logo and name have become the symbol of consumerist cool, an affordable piece of luxury that, if you believe Apple’s marketing, divides consumers the world over into Apple lovers and others, and ne’er the twain shall meet.

But there is nothing very cool about the culture of the company Jobs has presided over since he returned as CEO in 1997, after being ousted some years earlier in a boardroom coup. Its ”my way or the highway” approach to business has earned it few friends. Apple is one of the few technology companies in the world that has succeeded despite having a closed ecosystem that does not work with any other technology. This protectionist approach extends to Apple’s aggressive policy towards patents and trademarks. Any company, be it large or small, that dares use the ”i” or anything resembling an apple in its brand, invites the wrath of Apple’s corporate lawyers.

Which is a bit of a rant article about how Steve Jobs is no saint, but it’s worth pondering for a moment at the sheer power of Apple’s brand and the fact that it is the world’s biggest company by capitalisation – that never pays a dividend to its investors (!). It is worth asking if it is a good corporate citizen at all. If it weren’t for their product, they’d be monopolists like… Microsoft.

There are people committing suicide in Apple’s factories in China because of the grueling conditions and they probably get a tiny fraction of the 6-7% the factory gets out of the price of an iPod or iPad. It’s getting to the point that the factory wants to automate so that it can get rid of labor costs. It’s a contradictory kind of world. To deliver ever cheaper goods, a lot of companies have decided to cut labour costs but in turn this has led to poorer people who cannot afford the cheaper goods because they can’t get the jobs they used to have. And given the cheaper cost of production, these companies all line up to collect the lion’s share of the profits while some of them complain about having competition.

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A Joke About Alan Jones

This One Is Doing The Rounds

Alan Jones is coaching the Barker Boys U-15 Rugby team. He turns up to the team training with a parrot on his shoulder and declares, “If any of you can tell me what this bird on my shoulder is, I will fuck them up the arse.”

Confused, the U-15 boys rugby team confer with one another until they push the captain forward, who asks, “Is it an emu?”

Alan Jones says, “close enough!”

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Update Of Sorts – 30/Aug/2011

Who Is This Noda You Speak Of?

Japanese politics is stranger than fiction sometimes. There’s always too much drama and never enough substance to chart a course out of the troubled waters it finds itself in. Still, the ruling DPJ has managed to change Prime Minsters for the second time in this Diet term and installed Yoshihiko Noda, a man better known for not being the front runner in this leadership challenge.

THERE is not a lot that instantly stands out about Yoshihiko Noda, who was chosen in an internal ruling-party election on August 29th to become Japan’s seventh prime minister in only five years. But at least two things can be said for him before he is dismissed as yet another here-today, gone-tomorrow face in some G8 summit’s photo: he has a healthy sense of crisis, and a nicely self-deprecating sense of humour.

In mid-August, he wrote a blog post (sorry, Japanese only), referring extensively to our cover story of July 30th, “Turning Japanese”, which is about debt and politics in the West. As Japan’s finance minister, he could have focused on the debt issue alone, but instead he chose to translate—and echo—our lament about Japan’s long-standing political paralysis. “I feel very keenly the eyes of the foreign media on our country. And I think a lot of Japanese people feel that things are not working the way they should.” He added, “When the time comes, I will put myself forward.”

At the time, some people would have shuddered at the thought that such a little known politician—and one closely aligned with that bureaucratic powerhouse, the ministry of finance—might replace the woefully uncharismatic Naoto Kan. But there is at least one thing to be thankful for in today’s victory: Mr Noda sidelined one of the main forces of paralysis in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Ichiro Ozawa, who continues to head the largest faction within the party though he has been indicted in a money scandal and his party membership is suspended.

Mr Ozawa backed Banri Kaieda, a trade minister who looked increasingly in danger of becoming a puppet for the backroom fixer. But though the first vote put Mr Kaieda in front, thanks to the support of Mr Ozawa’s cronies, it was not enough to win him an outright victory. In the run-off, Mr Noda’s supporters joined forces with those of Seiji Maehara, another anti-Ozawa candidate who lost in the first round (and whom we had thought would be the front-runner, because of his support among the electorate at large). Mr Noda won with 215 votes to Mr Kaieda’s 177. It is the second time this year—the first was a no-confidence vote against Mr Kan in June—that Mr Ozawa has failed to impose his will on the party, though that is not to say that he will stop making mischief for the new leader.

The long and short of it is that they couldn’t go back to Maehara, and they didn’t want the puppet of Ozawa, so they made the gutsy move of picking a guy who might actually have some stones. Mind you, stones wasn’t the issue with Kan – it was more his inability to actually govern – while Hatoyama before him was essentially child-like in the wrong way. It will be interesting to see if Noda has any ability at all.

The more interesting aspect of his career to date is that he always wanted to be a politician so there’s something of a motivated bastard in him; meanwhile he’s not coming from a dynastic line of diet members like so many in the Japanese Diet so it is possible he might have a different perspective on what actually is the task for a member of the Diet. We shall see. The best thing about him so far as I can tell is that he reads the Economist magazine and so understands how the West view Japan today; and he is shocked. it shows that he understands the enormity of the problem and its urgencies. It might turn out he’s the right man at the right time. That was most certainly not the case for Kan, Hatoyama, Aso, Fukuda, Abe and the latter part of the Koizumi years.

For once, they have a Prime Minister who understands the nature of the problem, and how far-reaching it is.

Those House Prices…

Don’t look now but Steven Keen’s actually been spot on about housing prices. In a nutshell, they’re falling.

Although auction clearance rates have been relatively stable over the past few months, Australian Property Monitors data reveals Sydney’s median house price fell from $646,806 over the April quarter this year to $639,484 over the July quarter, a decrease of 1.1 per cent.

The other capital cities also recorded declines in median house prices over the July quarter. Melbourne was the best performer with a fall of 0.9 per cent, and Perth and Brisbane the worst, with falls of 2.7 per cent and 2.1 per cent respectively.

Perth and Brisbane were the worst performing capitals over the July quarter with falls in median house prices of 2.7 percent and 2.1 percent.

Despite the decline over the July quarter, Sydney’s median house price has remained steady over the past year – down just 0.6 per cent. This is good for stability and confidence, considering prices rose 20 per cent in the 18 months from January 2009 to June 2010.

Sydney has recorded the best outcome among capital cities through the market’s recent corrective phase brought on by rising interest rates and house prices that put pressure on affordability in most centres.

So, Sydney isn’t getting more affordable any time soon, but the asset bubble that is the property market is slowly deflating. You’d have to say the RBA is doing a bang up ob of managing the economy. Mind you, this slow decline and stagnation in property value is going to motivate the property-owning class to vote out the ALP at the next Federal election but really, even if the Libs were in power these prices were going to fall.

Building Approvals are also not recovering.

On an annual basis, approvals fell 15 per cent in the year to July, following a 15.5 per cent drop in the year to June. Analysts predicted a 12.4 per cent fall in the month.

“These were a little weaker than we expected,” said Macquarie economist Ben Dinte. “It comes off a period of consistently falling building approvals so it’s really just stabilisation at pretty soft levels rather than an indication of things picking up.”

Taken with weak home loan data, building approvals will probably remain flat over the rest of 2011, said Mr Dinte.
The real estate market has shown signs of strain this year, posing risks for employment growth in construction and as well as bank earnings in the months ahead.

Data yesterday showed that new home sales have fallen to a 10-year low in July, according to the Housing Industry Association, dropping 8 per cent in July, following an 8.7 per cent fall in June.
Home prices, on a seasonally adjusted basis, have sunk 2.7 per cent in 2011 so far, according to RP-Data-Rismark, after rapid run-ups since 2008, making the purchase of property less attractive.

That’s got to be joy too. Given the volatility of the share markets lately, and the stagnation in property prices, Gold has soared because there’s not that many other places that are safe to put your money. The truth might be that there is actually nowhere you can put your money that is ‘safe’. Think about just how much bad debts there were in 2008. It dwarfed the GDP of the  world.

Rickenbacker Restoration

Sorry I’ve not written for a little while I’ve been mightily distracted by things around me and haven’t been the most inspired when it comes to writing stuff down.

My current project of sorts is an attempt to restore a vintage Rickenbacker 4001 bass dating from about 1980. I was originally going to work on assembling a new bass this half year leading up to Christmas but one thing led to another and I decided upon restoring a Ricky instead. Part of it is that I’ve always wanted a Rickenbacker 4001 bass because all my bass-playing heroes played one – Chris Squire, Paul McCartney, John Entiwstle each spent significant parts of their careers with one – so as long as I can remember I’ve just wanted one.

Of course in Australia this is a lot more difficult. They not only cost more, and for better parts f the last 3 decades the Australian dollar was at a significant disadvantage to the US dollar, but also the suppliers in Australia have had a devil of a time getting a supply of product from America. This has led to an absolute scarceness of Rickenbacker basses in Australia and fueled resale prices.It was simply rare to see anybody playing with one at all. And they all had collector-bound price tags. If ever there was a hall mark of Australian rock, you could say it was the utter absence of the Rickenbacker bass sound.

It’s a nice thing that you can now buy Rickenbackers on-line. Of course being a little idiosyncratic, I picked a second hand 4001 that’s been painted silver grey and discovered that most of the parts need replacing. So I’ve been spending my free time sanding back the paint and trying to get my head around the Rickenbacker circuit diagram. It’s been quite a voyage of discovery as I’ve learnt things about something for which I only had a distant appreciation. In the process I feel like I’m exorcising ghosts and cutting away Karma from the instrument.

I expect this project to take a little while yet so I might be sporadic in my posts here.

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History Is Now

The Sum Total of Human Experience For 2000 Years

A little while ago the Economist put up this chart in their Daily Chart section. I’ve been meaning to blog it but life has a way of getting in the way of blogging. It’s a chart of summing up the years lived and the economic output of humanity for the last 2000 years.

SOME people recite history from above, recording the grand deeds of great men. Others tell history from below, arguing that one person’s life is just as much a part of mankind’s story as another’s. If people do make history, as this democratic view suggests, then two people make twice as much history as one. Since there are almost 7 billion people alive today, it follows that they are making seven times as much history as the 1 billion alive in 1811. The chart below shows a population-weighted history of the past two millennia. By this reckoning, over 28% of all the history made since the birth of Christ was made in the 20th century. Measured in years lived, the present century, which is only ten years old, is already “longer” than the whole of the 17th century. This century has made an even bigger contribution to economic history. Over 23% of all the goods and services made since 1AD were produced from 2001 to 2010, according to an updated version of Angus Maddison’s figures.

For a moment, I want people to consider what this means. That 28% of human history and experience was lived in the 20th Century tells us that whatever was important leading up to the 20th Century, things that were just as important happened in the 20th century. Add in the 23% from the last 11 years of the 21st Century and basically, the last 111 years account for 51% of the sum total of human experience for the last 2000 years.

If you look at that gentle slope to the left of the 20th century, that includes the Empire phase of the of the Roman Empire minus the first 49 years which fell before 1AD, the various empires in the Middle East and Persia, the multitude of Chinese Dynasties since the latter Han Dynasty, and so on. The cultural output probably correlates with economic output as a proxy, so what this all suggests is that everybody from (just randomly, no relative importance implied) Tacitus and Suetonius and Zhuge Liang and St Thomas Aquinas and Renee Descartes and Johann Sebastian Bach, and Constantine and Napoleon, all fall into 49% to the left of the 20th Century.

In turn, if you had a detailed understanding of the 20th Century and the 11years of this century, you’d actually be on top of 51% (and growing in proportion) of human history since 1AD. This doesn’t immediately relegate the classics of any field to the dust bin, but it puts it all into a different perspective.

There was a study done in Germany that pointed to 1970 as the year classical education ended. That is to say, it was the year in which the teaching of classics was no longer the mainstay of education, that increasingly vocational education pushed aside the classical education. If you look at this chart, you can see why. The push of modernity was directly the push of the massive demographic that arose in the 20th century. It is possible more people were lost to war and violence than any other time in history in the 20th Century, and even then it managed to produce so many life-hours and economic output and by extension, cultural output.

In turn, what has happened since 1970 sheds a lot of light on this shift. The move from modernism to post-modernist philosophy was probably an attempt to accommodate this giant shift where overnight the classical teachings that formed the cultural framework became obsolete. Indeed, more humans have read the classics, listened to classical music alone in the last 111years, while things like cinema as a form of expression grew into maturity and needed to be discussed. Pop music of various shades supplanted the ‘importance’ of classical music and contemporary art keeps on rewriting the frontiers of expression at an ever more frantic pace.

The best book that in fact offers an insight into this might be ‘Future Shock’ by Alvin Toffler, because what is described in that book is precisely what this chart has shown, and the implications keep reaching out. I don’t mean to praise the book, but rereading it today would offer confirmation that indeed the future is not only now, so is history.

One of the important take away messages from the chart is that what we are doing right now, is just as important as what happened before. Your poem, your short story, your film, your song is no less important than anything that preceded it. It’s just that nobody has had the time to find your work unless you have become a celebrity. Not being famous and best-selling does not preclude you from being a valued contributor to the human experience. Be encouraged in knowing that what you are doing is meaningful. Go forth and create, secure in the knowledge that what you are doing is just as important as what came before. It’s counter-intuitive, but history is in the making, right now as we speak, and you are doing it.

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CPI And Cost Of Living Discrepancy

What To Make Of This

Just what good is the CPI – the ‘Consumer Price Index – as a measure of inflation when the cost of living surges ahead of the CPI? This is the question in this article here.

Soaring food and rent costs have seen the cost of living outpace inflation over the past year, adding to evidence that households are being squeezed, new figures show.

“Employee” households saw their cost of living shoot up 4.5 per cent in the year to June, driven by soaring increases in the cost for food, alcohol and rent, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said.

The ABS said those rises were “due to increases in mortgage interest charges, fruit, automotive fuel, tobacco, electricity and rents”.

The increase surpassed the 3.7 per cent rise in headline inflation over the year to June and comes as rising costs – combined with high debt levels for housing – have been blamed for Australia’s slowing economy. The Reserve Bank uses its own underlying gauges of inflation based on data supplied by the ABS when deciding interest rates.

Food costs for employee households increased 5.8 per cent over the year, the ABS said, while alcohol and tobacco prices rose 5.6 per cent in that time. Housing costs, which exclude real estate purchases, increased 5.8 per cent for employee households in the year.

Now, that actually does fall in line with my own experiences of late. That is to say, the day to day things the form the inelastic end of my needs have been creeping up in price, while the things I have a fair bit of elasticity in have been falling in price. So if the CPI is measuring a wider spectrum of goods and it is coming in lower than the cost of living figures, then that indicates there’s a bit of deflation going on at the bigger ticket end of the spectrum.

It’s hard to say just how much we should be encouraged by the prices of computers today compared to even 5 years ago, but there does seem to be a trend for the bigger ticket items to be sitting cheaper than they did before. It is taking some stupidly obstinate pricing practices in the retail sector to keep the pricing at the same level as before we hit 95cents and above against the US Dollar. Most of anything imported has come down in price.

One imagines it benefits the government coffers greatly for things to be indexed to CPI rather than cost of living; especially things like pension and welfare payments, but that’s basically the government making savings in a way that doesn’t show up as a cut in the budget. Similarly, the mortgagees benefit greatly because it tempers the degree by which the RBA raises the interest rates. So it’s a kind of passive transfer of wealth from the poor to the middle. Though saying that too loudly will get you labelled a crazy Marxist – or a gloating fascist.



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Our Consumerist Ways – Part 2

More On Price Tags

In the market place for anything we have a sticker price and time and occasion willing we haggle and negotiate these things lower. What people don’t seem to think too deeply about is what goes into that sticker price. The question that comes up about the retail sector in Australia for example is “why are their prices so expensive?”

The short answer is that they are ‘uncompetitive’ but this phrase dismisses quite a lot of factors that contribute to it. For instance, retailers in Australian capital cities pay the highest rent for their spaces in any city in the world except maybe New York City. the ones that are situated away from the cities have the tyranny of distance to pay for as well as the cost of having to pay for smaller orders which are more expensive than larger orders.

Indeed, there are so many little things that contribute to the price tag that are not immediately obvious but explains quite a bit. For a business to be around it has to have insurances in place, and all the people involved have to be covered by Work Cover. Everything and everybody that moves in our economy is covered by these insurances – and believe me they can be expensive – but it guarantees that goods are handled safely. We also have standards for certain things like fresh foods such as HACCP which is there to guarantee food safety but also adds cost to ensure this safety. All over our economy there are equivalent measures put in place to protect people and consumers; and it all adds up.

Part of the reason why parts of South East Asia are so inexpensive to do business is because they have none of these kinds of things in place. You can find all sorts of people willing to take extraordinary risks to earn a quid, which is the polar opposite of what we have here. There are captains of industry who think this is a great thing, and that our workers in Australia are less ‘competitive’ because we are too well protected. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but you can see that part of living in a mature-economy part of the world is that risks and costs are spread across everything making everything more expensive.

None of that I would imagine makes it past the brain of the person who complains about the price of things in Australia, but there is one advantage of shopping from a retailer in Australia and that is the fact that when you make your exchange, you have the product in your hot little hand on the spot. The inherent risk of on-line shopping is always going to be the fact that you’re sending your money to somebody you will never meet and then you have to wait for postal services to hand you your goods. Sometimes, that turns out to be a little more risky than you thought.

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Our Consumerist Ways

Deciphering The Value Of Anything

Years ago I started wondering about the market for anything as to whether prices of anything would be representative for what as really out there. For instance, we had some carp in this pond where I lived in Japan. The carp grew to be about 50 to 60 centimeters length. I told a guy at a pet shop that we had these carp and he said “oh that would be worth 20 to 30 thousand yen.” As a kid I thought, wow, that means there was about 750 thousand yen swimming around in our pond. The problem of course was, who would pay such money for these carp? To that extent, you could say the carp at least had a replacement price tag established.

That is to say, if for some reason you needed 25 carp at 50 to 60 centimeter lengths for whatever reason, you could be assured that you would have to fork out that sum of money. It seemed to me as a kid that may be prices of things weren’t as obvious as what people said they were, certainly where use value was very unclear. Which is essentially the way the antique markets work and to some extent classic cars or vintage electric guitars. To most people, a piece of antique or classic car or vintage guitar simply doesn’t have a lot of use value but they all have exorbitant price tags; there’s also a market the corroborates the price tags as well, but the general level of demand in the market place would be much lower.

Conversely, staple foods might carry different branding, but just how much difference is there between Bega cheese and whatever brand that’s sitting next to it at the super market? It’s literally a matter of taste as they position themselves with tiny price differentiation. Indeed ad men stake their careers on convincing you about brands as if there’s a magical connection between a brand and its product’s use value.

I write this not to berate ad men, but because lately I’ve been made to ponder just how much of this linkage is forced upon us in our understanding of our consumerist world. In fact, we’re made to interpret the complex system of signs of branding as if it is interchangeable with the use value. Economists talk about the marginal value of things quite a bit but when you apply it to products, you quickly realise how vague and arbitrary our system of values happen to be. That is to say, if you chose to buy product A over B in spite of product A being more expensive, then you’re probably going to justify to yourself the difference in priceis exactly the difference in use value.If we’re back to talking about cheese, then the difference between cheese A and B is the difference in taste value.

Now, if we start talking about cars, most people justify their choices on alleged performances of vehicles based on printed specs. The specs might be number of cylinders in the engine or size of the engine or even the rated power output of the engine. The point is, people are picking categories and then comparing prices and picking the listed spec that suits their needs. Yet how many buyers really are experts on cars? As with the cheese example, at some point the extra pricing over the competitor can only be justified on a vague issue of taste. In fact, most people are buying cars on the level of “this is an imported German car, it must be better than the Australian made sedan.”

Right up and down the market place, people are funneled into thinking like this, which then goes into the structure of prestige and hierarchical thinking in society. And it’s not just cars – we do it with housing, education, medical care and insurance, clothing (Ah, fashion!), food, and just about everything we buy. And all the while we rarely get to ask if this marginal value we are spending our money upon is something that we need. Does our cheese need to taste just that little bit better to our palates? Does our car really need to have the better spec even though 99% of the time we will drive at around the speed limit or be stationary at lights?

A good friend of mine always said, if something is twice as much as its competitor, you need to consider if you will enjoy it twice as much as the other thing.

I guess if you can afford the things you want then there’s no need to ponder any of these things. I’m not exactly advocating restraint or anything here; just making observations. However, consumerist society being what it is, we’re all forced into making these choices every time we need to get something – anything – and in so doing, we do this invisible dance in our heads. Do we like this one, as opposed to that one? Does this say the right thing about me to the world? That’s all brand-speak and ad-speak.

When one is honest with oneself, one would come to realise that there are so few things we know about well enough to dig deeper than the advertising guff or the spec sheet. I could tell you a great deal about electric guitars and bass guitars but I doubt I could tell you much about, say, violins. Cars? I’m working off spec sheets. I’m neither a mechanic nor engineer enough to know better. Refrigerators, washing machines and other white goods? I’m guessing based on price tags. I know quite a bit about cameras but how often do I go buy one of those? If you are honest with yourself, I think you would realise that you rely quite a bit on hearsay, opinion and whatever information that is thrust in front of you.

And the funny thing is that we kind of just accept the price tags of these things that inherently come with some ancillary, marginal value attached, and by extension, even if we were vigilant we will always be playing by the rules of the market-assigned value hierarchy. You would have to be a committed rebel or revolutionary to walk away from our social system built up on judgments and prejudices based on advertising and branding.

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