Friday, January 25, 2002

I take your point, Tom, that we should not focus too much on supplier-customer interaction at the point of sale. Perhaps simplistic analogies obscure the pervasive nature of change and shifting balances of forces. Bearing in mind that I question a real, IT-driven transfer of power from the corporation to the customer (as b!X posits), let's assume that we are indeed the locus of a fulcrum of power capable of restructuring "the way we do business" along the axis and across the spectrum. All I'm asking is, "Has this not always been the case?" Businesses are incorporeal entities comprising consumers at work. We all, to differing degrees and at different levels, carry out the functions of the company and the customer. We should therefore know whether or not we are the locus of such power. If we accept that we are, we have to accept responsibility for what we have done with that power to now or put ourselves in the camp of the disenfranchised. When we speak of reshaping capital formation, corporate law and generally accepted accounting practices, we are talking of using that power to effect fundamental social and economic change across national boundaries. Beyond our ability to communicate so readily on the Web, where is this power to change the way we "do business" in evidence? In Houston? Palestine? South Asia. South America? I can't find it anywhere.

We either don't have it or we have abused it. With globalization and the rise to power of the IMF, WB, and WTO, we've seen how some wield the power we give them. History has shown us that government is influenced as much by economic forces as the local gas station pump jockey. Over the past 150 years, all we appear to have done is shift the Dickensian conditions under which First World labor suffered, to the greater part of the planet while reserving consumption for an increasingly small elite. We, at the locus of the fulcrum of power, have done precious little, despite the massive progress made between 1900 and 1970, to slow the increasing gap developing between the rich and the poor (who, we are told, will always be with us). Since the emergence of information technologies wielding immense economic clout, have we seen a slowdown in the growth of disparity? No, it has speeded inequity. At a macro level, I see little evidence that the consumer who fouls the planet even wants to effect positive changes to business practices, the laws governing them, and the type of person they wish to see reflecting their new sense of community.

I am beating no drum here, Tom, I'm merely trying to understand the difference between that which is evident and that which Chris foresees. I am a high-school dropout whose world view has been naively acquired. I read, watch, and listen. A couple of years ago, I happened across an article by Thomas Frank, editor of The Baffler (defunct?), entitled "The Rise of Market Populism: America's New Secular Religion". A poorly constructed review of his book, "One Market, Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism and the End of Economic Democracy" (Doubleday), highlights the value of Frank's thesis in the aftermath of September 2001, and an interview with the New York Times makes for thought-provoking reading. Frank's loathing of market populism makes perfect sense to me. He details how, during the 90s, the notion or markets as mediums of exchange and consent was subverted and, ultimately, gave rise to the sick situation whereby Dubya could give tax breaks for corporations and a cut in the capital gains tax as a response to "terrorism". While his views do not seem to conflict with those articulated in GM, they do perpetuate my skeptical approach to a ready acceptance that consumers have the power to do very much at all.

Hmm, as I've wandered up this creek far away from GM, perhaps I should close with a question. "What, if anything, is the difference between Thomas Frank and Chris Locke? Put another way, what does Locke see that Frank does not?" I am looking for answers here, by the way. Treat me as you would any slow learner. Educate me.

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