A Serviceable Society

By Graham Peterson

hot-waitress2Over at The New York Times Magazine, Cathreine Rampell has a nice piece called “Outsource Your Way to Success.”  She calls hiring cleaning ladies and personal chefs “outsourcing,” and tells a story about a couple of Columbia economists who hire as many personal services as possible to outsource their way to more time with their son, marriage, and careers.

Rampell’s title is provocative.  Why?  We usually call businesses turning an activity from inside the firm into a market exchange “outsourcing” in order to raise ethical indignation.  And nobody wants to turn their home into a dirty corporation.  At the root of that indignation is the idea that one who out-sources has Betrayed the Clan (or usually The State or The Neighborhood: “buy American!” or “buy local!”).  Fair play: we don’t discuss often enough the dizzying network of loyalties that make a firm and market.  But when we live in a Loyalty Is All That Matters world, we get insane conclusions about human welfare.  If you don’t divide labor and compete some — everyone ends up broke.

To source from outside the clan, or outside my own two hands pace Martha Stewart, is merely to divide labor.  That’s ancient.  Our ethical intuitions about it, though, seem not to have changed much.  We seem to cling to an old-worn aristocratic myth of the Noble Farmer and Noble Craftsman.  Why should we champion doing it yourself?  In an EXTREME D.I.Y. world (who grew up in the 90s?  EXTREME!), people suffer from such massive inefficiencies that everyone makes about $3 a day.  Ask anyone in history before industrialization.  Or the majority of citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We worry about splitting up divisions of labor because, yes, we have very nice stories built around the traditional identities in embedded in one social role or another.  But where do these stories come from?

With his crushing insight, Karl Marx formalized the intuition many had in the 19th century that the expansion of markets was merely reproducing the fantastic inequality and slavery of history.  Well now, that’s stupid.  By “deskilling” workers and allowing them to focus on getting really good at one or a few tasks, by cultivating professions, and by limiting the breadth of skills one needs, markets have put human beings in constant service of one another and increased their depth of skills.  The firm is merely an intermediary between regular folks, and bosses are beholden to the power of competition that regular folks, in aggregate, leverage.

But we don’t think about outsourcing and hiring services in such an innocuous way.  Rampell notes that people might feel a little hairy about hiring people to assemble Ikea furniture for them, like the Columbia economists have.  It stamps of aristocracy.  Just so.  One of the major reasons I left the restaurant industry, even though I was a pretty good cook, was that I didn’t like the idea of “serving the rich” for the rest of my life.

But now that too, was silly.  Who are “the rich?”  People who sweep floors callously command plebes with their janitor-dollars, in our modern world, to serve them their food and reheat their coffee if it is cold.  The intuition you see, becomes a strange argument from power when everyone has a lot of it.

To be a servant is shockingly different from providing a service, and we ought to note it.  Servants were often not free in their property of person, nor free to force their employers to compete for their services on a market, bidding up their wages: “I’m sorry, my Liege, but the Duchess of Norman is advertising a horse more, and dental, in exchange for my sweeping.  Swiftly I must go.”

Yet people fear that an increasing service economy will look like plebes and kings.  People sense that providing flimsy services doesn’t really make anything, as against Making Widgets which does.  They sense that (more services) –> (more poverty).  So I ask you: are iPhones real wealth?  I bet you enjoy an extraordinary stream of services from your smart phone.  See, then, that all the “real wealth” that “real goods” provide you with, is ultimately a stream of services.  The usefulness and utility of objects is culturally determined, and all there ever was in any market, was a service economy.

We have no idea what the crazy variety of services there are to be invented will look like.  But we do know it will happen.  And in an economy with rising income for its poorest members who are able to demand such services (that is, factually, our economy), it’s strange to think that we should abhor a future world in which people run around doing their best to serve one another as a product of greater and greater outsourcing.  What a pity of human greed, poverty, and misery this helpful world is.

 

 

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Dainty Mouths & Big Burgers: Liberating Japanese Women

liberation-wrapper
Ochobo level: Achieved

Japanese Burger joint Freshness Burger had a problem. Their largest burger, the “Classic” was a huge hit, but only among men. What was going on? Well the burger is enormous and in order to eat it you have to unhinge your jaw and get a little (a lot) messy. According to the campaign video, this was a deal breaker for Japanese women:

“For Japanese women, having “ochobo,” a small and modest mouth, is regarded as attractive. In public, a large open mouth is regarded as ugly and rude. It is therefore considered good manners to cover the mouth when opening it. This means they are denied the wild pleasure of taking mouth sized bites of this big tasty burger freely in public. Freshness burger decided to challenge this convention.”

How? By introducing the “Liberation Wrapper,” which covers a woman’s face with the image of a smiling closed mouth, allowing her to get down to the business of burger eating without looking unladylike. According to Freshness Burger sales of their Classic Burger have gone up 213% among women since the introduction of the Liberation Wrapper.

This campaign is getting buzz because it hits an internet trifecta, clever advertising, yet another bizarre thing Japanese people do (it’s officially filed under “weird” on msn), and gender politics. To the first and second I say yes and, what is “weird” anyway? To the third, obviously it’s troubling that women are hiding themselves behind paper masks to conform to expectations about “dainty” and “demure” mouths while men are free to scarf down burgers as messily as they like.

Maybe the Japanese just need a role model to teach them that ladies can eat burgers without shame. And no one makes a better role model for burger eating than America.  So let’s check in with some liberated American women to see how they eat a burger. Ladies?

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Kate Upton for Carls Jr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay…not exactly what I was looking for but at least her face isn’t covered I guess. Let’s try again.

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Still from Carls Jr Pulled Pork ad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ummmm.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well obviously this just isn’t a burger ad so there’s no problem with…

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Paris Hilton for Carls Jr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Clearly Carls Jr is the problem here, I’m sure if we check out some ads from other…what’s that? Burger King too?

bk-bj-ad-32435-1245790172-20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surely Arby’s, (home of the roast beef sandwich ®), would never…

arbys-burger-boobs-16269-1234643748-12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bun-boobs? Really?!? I give up.

Obromacare or MotherbroXXX

By Amanda Grigg

Last week everyone from The Atlantic to Buzzfeed covered a new Colorado Obamacare campaign targeting “bros.” The campaign can be found at “gotinsurancecolorado.org and is part of the Thanks Obamacare campaign run by ProgressNow Colorado and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. You can also reach the site via “doyougotinsurance.com” which is, clearly, a more bro-friendly url.

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got insurance, bro?

Of course the Colorado campaign’s real aim is to get the attention of healthy, uninsured young people, a group that pretty much everyone agrees is essential to the success of the Affordable Care Act. Because they rarely use medical services these “young invincibles” are cheap to insure, and thus their enrollment is necessary to offset the costs of older, less healthy patients. It just so happens that most of the healthy, uninsured young people (57%) are male. This explains both Obromacare and the Koch brothers’ recent attempts to get bros to “opt-out” via events at campus bars offering free beer and ipad drawinngs. Unfortunately for proponents of the ACA, healthy young men without pre-existing conditions are generally thought to benefit the least from Obamacare, which makes them both vital and possibly resistant to health care form. As a result, we get to watch as everyone and their mother (literally) bro-down.

AARP_ACA_eCard7_600.imgcache.rev1379416663982Efforts to promote the health care law among young invincibles have also targeted mothers. Ads on facebook and recipe websites admonish, “Mom knows best, get insurance!” and cheeky AARP e-cards read “Get health insurance so I can stop pestering you to sign up and start pestering you to get married.” As Democratic pollster Celinda Lake explained to the Washington Post,“it will be the moms of America who are going to decide if their families get coverage…They will decide and then insist their children and husbands sign up.” Polling backs Lake up – many young uninsured people, and particularly young men, cite their mothers as their most trusted source of information about the health care law.

So, a big part of the explanation for these ads can be found in policy and the fact that high enrollment among healthy, uninsured young men is necessary to make Obamacare work. The campaigns are highly gendered because they’re targeting very specific, gendered audiences (mothers and young men). And they’re a little cheesy because bureaucrats and the Koch brothers trying to identify with the cool kids is a little like your parents trying to talk to you about Miley Cyrus. Or your great aunt publicly chastising you for posting bridesthrowingcats.com on facebook because “who would do that to a cat?”

More troubling than the seemingly inevitable pandering to bros is the misleading use of healthy young men as an exemplar of the harms of health care reform. Because of their unique relationship to the ACA, healthy 25 year old men have become the darlings of health care reform critics, who have conveniently held them up as (purportedly) randomly chosen example that illustrate how the healthcare law works and why it will raise rates (Jonathan Chait does a good job of addressing the problems with this tactic). Put simply, the 25 year old healthy male example is a poor one on which to base arguments about the ACA generally because it’s one of very few cases in which individuals may see rates go up, and because the group makes up a small portion of the total population. And as Sarah Kliff explains, the structure of the ACA makes it difficult to generalize even about this relatively small, homogenous group. Most notably, the example is misleading because it’s almost inevitable that in his lifetime this bro will benefit from Obamcare both directly and indirectly if he gets sick, becomes poor, lives past 25, cares about anyone who is or becomes sick, and let’s not even get started on how straight men benefit from the birth control mandate.

Google Autocomplete and Global Sexism

By Amanda Grigg

UN Women has a new campaign that uses google autocomplete to demonstrate the scope of sexism worldwide. Ads in the series place autocomplete search results for queries like “women cannot” and “women should not” over close-ups of a diverse group of women. According to creator Christopher Hunt, “The adverts show the results of genuine searches, highlighting popular opinions across the world wide web” (more on whether Hunt is right about this below).

Autocomplete results are known to vary by location, which inspired me to do some quick google searching of my own (I also thought it was time to get the men involved) and I found a little something for the optimists/male breastfeeding proponents:

womencan

Of course I also found this (thanks patriarchy/E.L. James):

whatwomenwant

and found out that the male version of this:

women should not

is this:

men should not

Fellow Jilter (Jilted?) Graham noted that the search results of autocomplete suggestions don’t always perfectly match the sentiment of the autocomplete. So, an autocomplete of “women shouldn’t vote” for a “women shouldn’t” search conducted in New York might turn up a couple of articles about the women’s suffrage movement (my search turned up this) in addition to more recent coverage critiquing someone who opposes women’s right to vote (here and here) and not turn up much in the way of meaningful opposition to women voting. I don’t think that this makes the campaign any less powerful or accurate as a reflection of sexism, for two reasons. 1. the campaign is global and we could imagine that there are places where correspondingly sexist results would turn up and 2. as far as I can tell, autocomplete is based on popular searches not popular content, so regardless of what the search turns up, the suggestions reflect a large group of people searching for those (sexist or anti-shortsist) terms. Of course we can’t be sure of what people wanted out of their search – they could have been declaring a personal opinion or searching for arguments against women serving in combat for a term paper. So I’ll give some ground on whether all autocomplete results are direct evidence of sexism and maintain that there is ample evidence elsewhere that sexism remains a global issue.

 

I Admit It — I Like Ads

By Graham Peterson

I’ve had an advertising epiphany: I like it.  And that’s a big step for someone whose lion share of social thought came out of, wait for the name, Adbusters Magazine for years.  But Google has started sending me ads to incredible furniture stores I didn’t know about.  Should I be ashamed that I’m grateful?

Most of the cultural criticism of advertising, at least the part that’s not motivated by deep-roots Marxian theorizing like Herbert Marcuse and Antonio Gramsci, comes I think from the sheer fact that advertising often annoys people.  And who wouldn’t be annoyed with a message constantly blaring in your face that you don’t want to hear?  Imagine a guy follow you around and pestering you to buy something you have no interest in buying – print and digital and billboard and TV commercial ads aren’t much different.

These advertisers have made efforts to tailor their advertising.  In rhetoric we call it consideration of audience.  At the bar they call it having a clue.  Nobody was wheat-pasting feminine hygiene product posters at Wrigley Field in the 1950s.  Soap operas actually began as filler in between soap commercials aimed at upper middle class housewives who were home during the day.  Toys get advertised during Saturday morning cartoons.  Etc.  So why the indignation and fear that companies are tracking our web browsing?  Ok, it’s a problem if the government does it.  Separate issue.

People’s attitudes towards advertising and sales-y-ness will begin to change as advertisers know more about who they’re talking to and when.  Us academic libertarians tend to believe that anti-market sentiment comes from a history of a small cadre of activist intellectuals who enjoy disproportionate influence.  That’s as likely as the right wing conspiracy to exploit the poor and destroy the environment is – not very.

At least half the reason the populist perception of markets has been negative is that markets seem like a disingenuous, inauthentic, and impersonal place when you’re being approached constantly with homogenous products, most of which you don’t even want.  But as technology advances and products become cheaper, they become more tailored to taste.  Working class toilet brushes now get designed by professionally trained artists.

A sense of intimacy and understanding will grow as markets become more personalized and people can more effectively forge relationships with companies.  With increasingly cheap communications technology, market persuasion is increasing in quality.  Ads are becoming less of a pain in the ass.  Just like life in general in a progressive market economy.