Fifty Shades of Capitalism: Pain and Bondage in the American Workplace

By Lynn Parramore, a contributing editor at Alternet. Cross posted from Alternet

If the ghost of Ayn Rand were to suddenly manifest in your local bookstore, the Dominatrix of Capitalism would certainly get a thrill thumbing through the pages of E.L. James’ blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey.

Rand, whose own novels bristle with sadomasochist sexy-time and praise for the male hero’s pursuit of domination, would instantly approve of Christian Grey, the handsome young billionaire CEO who bends the universe to his will.

Ingénue Anastasia Steele stumbles into his world — literally — when she trips into his sleek Seattle office for an interview for the college paper. When she calls him a “control freak,” the god-like tycoon purrs as if he has received a compliment.

“’Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele,’ he says without a trace of humor in his smile. ‘I employ over forty thousand people…That gives me a certain responsibility – power, if you will.’”

She will. Quivering with trepidation, Anastasia signs a contract to become Christian’s submissive sex partner. Reeled in by his fantastic wealth, panty-sopping charm, and less-than-convincing promise that the exchange will be to her ultimate benefit, she surrenders herself to his arbitrary rules on what to eat, what to wear, and above all, how to please him sexually. Which frequently involves getting handcuffed and spanked. “Discipline,” as Christian likes to say.

Quoting industrial tycoon Andrew Carnegie, Christian justifies his proclivities like an acolyte of Randian Superman ideology: “A man who acquires the ability to take possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.” (Rand’s worship of the Superman obliged to nothing but his intellect is well-known and imbued with dark passions; she once expressed her admiration for a child murderer’s credo, "What is good for me is right," as "the best and strongest expression of a real man's psychology I have heard” in a 1928 diary.)

Christian Grey, our kinky CEO, started his literary life as a vampire when Erika Leonard, the woman behind the pseudonym “E.L. James,” published the first version of her novel episodically on a Twilight fan site, basing the story on the relationship between Stephenie Meyers’ love couple Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. It was later reworked and released in its current form. Gone was Edward the vampire, replaced by Christian the corporate slave-master.

Drunk on the intoxicants of wealth and power, Fifty Shades of Grey hints at a sinister cultural shift that is unfolding in its pages before our eyes. The innocent Anastasias will no longer merely have their lifeblood slowly drained by capitalist predators. They’re going to be whipped, humiliated and forced to wear a butt-plug. The vampire in the night has given way to the dominating overlord of a hierarchical, sadomasochistic world in which everybody without money is a helpless submissive.

Welcome to late-stage capitalism.

Invisible Handcuffs

This has been coming for some time. Ever since the Reagan era, from the factory to the office tower, the American workplace has been morphing for many into a tightly-managed torture chamber of exploitation and domination. Bosses strut about making stupid commands. Employees trapped by ridiculous bureaucratic procedures censor themselves for fear of getting a pink slip. Inefficiencies are everywhere. Bad management and draconian policies prop up the system of command and control where the boss is God and the workers are so many expendable units in the great capitalist machine. The iron handmaidens of high unemployment and economic inequality keep the show going.

How did this happen? Economists known as “free-market fundamentalists” who claim Adam Smith as their forefather like to paint a picture of the economy as a voluntary system magically guided by an “invisible hand” toward outcomes that are good for most people. They tell us that our economy is a system of equal exchanges between workers and employers in which everybody who does her part is respected and comes out ahead.

Something has obviously gone horribly wrong with the contract. Thieving CEOs get mega-yachts while hard-working Americans get stagnant wages, crappy healthcare, climate change, and unrelenting insecurity. Human potential is wasted, initiative punished and creativity starved.

Much of the evil stems from the fact that free-market economists who still dominate the Ivy League and the policy circles have focused on markets at the expense of those inconvenient encumbrances known as "people." Their fancy mathematical models make calculations about buying and selling, but they tend to leave out one important thing: production. In other words, they don't give a hoot about the labor of those who sustain the economy. Their perverted religion may have something to say about unemployment or wages – keeping the former high and the latter low — but the conditions workers face receive nary a footnote.

Michael Perelman, one of a small group of heretical economists who question this anti-human regime, draws attention to the neglect, abuse and domination of workers in his aptly named book, The Invisible Handcuffs: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers. He reveals that instead of a system of fair exchanges, we have “one in which the interests of employees and employers are sharply at odds.” This creates conditions of festering conflict and employers who have to take ever-stronger measures to exert control. Hostility among workers thrives, which results in more punishment. Respect, the free flow of information, inclusive decision-making – all the things that would make for a productive work environment — fly out the window. The word of the manager is the law, and endless time and energy is expended rationalizing its essential goodness.

Americans are supposed to be people who love freedom above everything else. But where is the citizen less free than in the typical workplace? Workers are denied bathroom breaks. They cannot leave to care for a sick child. Downtime and vacations are a joke. Some – just ask who picked your tomatoes – have been reduced to slave-like conditions. In the current climate of more than three years of unemployment over 8 percent, the longest stretch since the Great Depression, the worker has little choice but to submit. And pretend to like it.

A medieval peasant had plenty of things to worry about, but the year-round control of daily life was not one of them.  Perelman points out that in pre-capitalist societies, people toiled relatively few hours over the course of a year compared to what Americans work now. They labored like dogs during the harvest, but there was ample free time during the off-seasons. Holidays were abundant – as many as 200 per year. It was Karl Marx, in his Theory of Alienation, who saw that modern industrial production under capitalist conditions would rob workers of control of their lives as they lost control of their work. Unlike the blacksmith or the shoemaker who owned his shop, decided on his own working conditions, shaped his product, and had a say in how his goods were bartered or sold, the modern worker would have little autonomy. His relationships with the people at work would become impersonal and hollow.

Clearly, the technological wonders of our capitalist system have not released human beings from the burden of work. They have brought us more work. They have not brought most of us more freedom, but less.

Naked domination was not always the law of the land. In the early 1960s, when unions were stronger and the New Deal’s commitment to full employment still meant something, a worker subjected to abuse could bargain with his employer or simply walk. Not so today. The high unemployment sustained by the Federal Reserve’s corporate-focused obsession with “fighting inflation” (code for "keeping down wages") works out well for the sado-capitalist. The unrelenting attack on government blocks large-scale public works programs that might rebalance the scale by putting people back on the job. The assault on collective bargaining robs the worker of any recourse to unfair conditions. Meanwhile, the tsunami of money in politics drowns the democratic system of rule by the people. And the redistribution of wealth toward the top ensures that most of us are scrapping too hard for our daily bread to fight for anything better. The corporate media cheer.

Turning the Tables

In the early '70s, the S&M counterculture scene followed the rise of anti-authoritarian punk rock, providing a form of transgressive release for people enduring too much control in their daily lives. Bondage-influenced images hit the mainstream in 1980 — the year the union-busting Ronald Reagan was elected president — in the form of a workplace comedy, 9 to 5, which became one of the highest grossing comedies of all time. 9 to 5 struck a chord with millions of Americans toiling in dead-end jobs ruled by authoritarian bosses. Audiences howled with joy to see three working women act out their fantasies of revenge on a workplace tyrant by suspending him in chains and shutting his mouth with a ball-gag.

More recently, the 2011 film Horrible Bosses follows the plot of three friends who decide to murder their respective domineering, abusive bosses. The film exceeded financial expectations, raking in over $28 million in the first three days. It went on to become the highest grossing black comedy film of all time.

The fantasy of turning the tables on the boss speaks to the deep-seated outrage that trickle-down policies and the war on workers has wrought. People naturally want to work in a rational, healthy system that offers them dignity and a chance to increase their standard of living and develop their potential. When this doesn’t happen, the social and economic losses are profound. Today’s workers are caught in Perelman’s “invisible handcuffs” – both trapped and blinded by the extent to which capitalism restricts their lives.

The market has become a monster, demanding that we fit its constraints. As long as we ignore this, the strength of the U.S. economy will continue to erode. Freedom and equality, those cornerstones of democracy, will diminish. For now, many working people have unconsciously accepted the conditions that exist as somehow natural, unaware of how the machine is constructed and manipulated to favor elites. Fear and frustration can even make us crave authority. We collaborate in our own oppression.

Just ask Anastasia Steele, whose slave contract spells out her duties with business-like efficiency:

Does the submissive consent to:

-Bondage with rope
-Bondage with leather cuffs
-Bondage with handcuffs/shackles/manacles
-Bondage with tape
-Bondage with other

Yes! She consents. The hypnotic consumption Christian offers in a world replete with fancy dinners and helicopter rides – goodies that will be revoked if she fails to obey — overturns her natural desire for free will. Once Anastasia has signed on the dotted line, her master rewards her with a telling gift that is often the first “present” an office employee receives: “I need to be able to contact you at all times…I figured you needed a BlackBerry.”

Her first note to him on her new gadget asks a question: “Why do you do this?”

“I do this,” Christian answers, “because I can.” 

Until we can link ourselves together to change this oppressive system, the Christian Greys will remain fully in control.

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102 comments

  1. Foppe

    Hm, from the titles it seems as though this perelman fellow has written quite a few interesting books. Thanks!

    1. jake chase

      Perelman does sound interesting. But you could improve this post a lot by removing all this absurd pornographic drivel clipped from some ghastly trashy dimwit excuse for typing apparently masquerading as a novel. Today, more than anything, we need standards, even for criticism.

      1. pdx

        OK, you don’t like it. I find it fascinating to observe how social conditions trickle down into trash consumed by the plebes. What would Dickens do?

      1. shtove

        I dunno. In my experience women are complicit in much of this “shut up and conform” atmosphere in the workplace. They’re slaves to targets and systems, hostile to ethical & professional concerns.

        I guess it’s the quid pro quo for maternity leave etc.

        Had a conversation with my sister in law this evening, in which she said mothers are more motivated in the workplace. Man, she’s bossy!

  2. F. Beard

    Not one mention of banking except tacit acceptance of the Federal Reserve!

    What part of “businesses will use every legal advantage including a government enforced/backed counterfeiting cartel, the banking system, to their advantage” don’t people get?

    Allow businesses to legally steal and guess what? They’ll steal! Or else go out of business because of less scrupulous competitors.

    1. Susan the other

      And instead of clear-eyed facts about unemployment, we get nonsense that the Fed fights inflation by “keeping down wages” in this current situation. That begs the question. What is being avoided here is that the Fed and Congress are in some deep collusion to prevent employment altogether. Reminiscent of 1987 when the market crashed and as it was limping back everyone clucked about “a jobless recovery.” That term was squashed this time. But it is what has happened an why. Keep inflation down – to protect the dollar while it takes an evolutionary leap into reality. Jobs can wait.

  3. SystemicDisorder

    The book’s master/sex slave arrangement is a more “efficient” system of dominance and control than traditional employment relationships, so now I understand why Fifty Shades of Grey has received so much attention. (I hadn’t paid any attention to the book’s hype.) At least it does encapsulate the soul-crushing “deal” in which consumer goodies are dangled in front of our eyes in exchange for having little control over lives and no control over social and political decision-making.

    This is what happens when people exist for the benefit of “markets,” instead of markets existing for people. http://wp.me/p2cpPS-5 Perhaps as the ability to earn enough to possess the goodies continues to erode, enough people will question the system that keeps them so subjugated in “invisible handcuffs.” I hope so, as it would preferable to transition to another system rather than wait for the collapse of capitalism under its own excesses. The latter won’t happen for many years, but surely will some day. Every system has a finite lifespan.

    1. Dan B

      The modern economic order is contracting/collapsing now, e.g., Spain, Greece, Portugal… the USA. How long it takes is most likely an issue of net energy flowing into this economic system (tar sands, shale oil and shale gas cannot save us). However, human actions -greed, predation, criminality, unpayable debt, etc- can hasten this process. And let’s not forget other natural resources depletion and a host of ecological dilemmas.

  4. RIverdaughter

    Fifty Shades of Grey sounds a lot like A Man With A Maid but without the plot and character development.

  5. Doug Terpstra

    Wow, American culture is in a Twilight Zone time warp. Fifty Shades of Grey totalitarianism is a bestseller and Dallas is back on the tube. God help us.

    1. Warren Celli

      “God help us.”

      The Overforce is always neutral, that’s why we must do as the author says; “link ourselves together to change this oppressive system”.

      Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

  6. Warren Celli

    This book as described appears passe in that it chronicles exploitation and dominance, characteristics of old fashioned Vanilla Greed for Profit (Evilism), where the host victim is allowed to live so as to be exploited (sex toyed with in the book) another day.

    We are now in the Pernicious Greed for Destruction era (Xtrevilism), where the victim is destroyed with no thought of future exploitation or dominance.

    How did this happen? Well its not the invisible hand, free market, or capitalism fantasy. It is the Noble Lie behind those fantasies that has caused the intentionally deteriorating conditions.

    Why is the distinction important? Because it requires far more skepticism and transparency to combat it and it reveals that there will be no remedial help from within the totally captured system.

    Are we ready for the election boycotts yet?

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

    1. harvey

      The system can only work because deception is pervasive and so successful.

      This is why Julian Assange is in so much trouble, because he is lifting the lid on deception, and so he will be made an example of to anyone else who ever wants to blow the whistle on the endemic corruption around the world.

      If Ecuador takes him, they are toast. He is getting a one way ticket to Guantanamo via Stockholm.

      1. Ben

        Webster Tarply’s take on Assange is that he is working hand in hand with the CIA, MI5 and Australian intellegence.

        He is very well versed in this realm but I just don’t see it.

        Anyone else have thoughts on this theory?

        1. Warren Celli

          Good question. My personal jury is still out on Assange.

          One of the problems we all face is that the Xtrevilist forces own and control an overwhelming all channel media voice and tremendous resources to shape the public psyche. Disinformation and breeding mistrust is becoming more commonplace. Apple was just granted a ‘patent’ on “Techniques to pollute electronic profiling.” presumably for good but it is still based in lying, which, stupidly, in the end, in the end will only breed more mistrust.

          http://www.cultofmac.com/175422/apple-patents-lying-to-those-who-are-spying/

          Like I said above, “far more skepticism and transparency” is required. And Harvey you are correct, “deception is pervasive and so successful.”

          Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        2. René

          How is it possible that someone like Assange which has ALLEGEDLY done so much damage to the US via Wikileaks…

          … being interviewed on prime time MSM…

          … the man is known all over the world…

          … if you are truly a threat to the USAF, than it is very unlikely that you become world famous VIA THE MSM!!!

          I hope I am completely wrong and that he is who says he is, but it is better to be a bit paranoid with Assange!

    2. alan

      With respect, I don’t think deception as a political force has much of a chance against good old milatary might. Powerful stuff, for sure, but…

    3. Nathanael

      “characteristics of old fashioned Vanilla Greed for Profit (Evilism), where the host victim is allowed to live so as to be exploited (sex toyed with in the book) another day.

      We are now in the Pernicious Greed for Destruction era (Xtrevilism), where the victim is destroyed with no thought of future exploitation or dominance.”

      Change from long-term greed to short-term greed.

      This is related to the rise of psychopathy as a major issue in our elite. Pscyhopathy is currently thought to be due to an inability to have anticipatory fear, in other words, an inability to be afraid of the bad consequences of current actions. Extremely short-term thinking is the natural result.

  7. Hugh

    “Something has obviously gone horribly wrong”

    It’s called kleptocracy. And we’ve been talking about it for some time here.

  8. rps

    Fifty Shades of Grey, another book that perpetuates the status quo narrative of women as a commodity to be exchanged in a phallocentric society that determines women’s currency in terms of sexuality as defined by men.

    1. James

      All springing from and nurtured by an authoritarian patriarchal religious schema. Go figure.

  9. Jill

    Very nicely done Yves. In ancient Persian mythology it is the belief in lies that helps to bring about evil in the world. You just exposed several important cultural lies. We don’t need to believe these stupid, cruel things.

    Here’s another examiniation of cultural lies that reminded me of what you just wrote. It’s by Gail Dines: “Let me explain how it often plays out: I get a call from a producer to do a show about porn, and in our pre-show discussion the producer is shocked to hear about what really goes on in the porn industry. He or she had no idea that hardcore porn (called “gonzo” by the industry and fans) is now mainstream on the Internet, that choking with a penis, slapping, hair pulling, and verbal abuse is the norm. The producer is horrified to hear that women in porn suffer repeatedly from rectal prolapse (because of pounding anal sex), and get diseases such as clamidia of the eye, gonorrhea of the throat, and fecal throat infections (because of the ATM act in which the penis goes from the anus to the mouth without washing). As we talk, I know exactly what is going on in the producer’s mind: they see their fun, hot-ratings-driver segment going down the tubes, and they are suddenly in the not-so-fun territory of cruelty, violence, and economic exploitation.

    As if this weren’t enough, their would-be guest at the other end of the line uses the dreaded word “capitalism,” because, of course, there is no way to talk about the porn industry without a thorough analysis of how this predatory industry actually interfaces with credit card companies, banks, information technology, hotels, venture capitalists, and—wait for it—mainstream media.”

    1. Guest

      No, you were correct originally. It was Gail Dines and the piece appeared on counterpunch.org on July 10.

  10. craazyman

    A man who acquires the ability to take possession of his own butt plug may take possession of anything else he can get his filthy hands on.

    Why are you doing this Christian?

    I don’t know why. What makes you think I do?

    All your money. All your power. You must know something I don’t. I’m just a woman and you’re a man.

    The money is not important. Being a man is not important. These are only a metaphors. It’s the plug that matters. It’s possessing your own plug. Do you understand?

    No. How do I possess my plug?

    Just grab it and yank like hell!

    hahahahahahahahahah

    Holy Cow. Is this what people are reading thse days? Billionares and butt plugs? hahahah

    God almighty this Post cracked me up, the way it staggered from image to image like a half conscious daydream of linguistically coherent rage. It was well done. So true. So true.

      1. Jill

        crazyman,

        Should Christian really be giving away the profound wisdom of butt plugs? Isn’t that dangerous in the hands of the uninitiated?

        Jim :)

    1. rotter

      Yes this is what our culture calls worth reading. What it calls worth seeing and what it cals worth hearing are even dumber, and more repulsive, purile and boring.

      1. Doug Terpstra

        It’s the banality of evil. Everything and every one has a price but no intrinsic value, beauty or soul. There is obssession without love, caring, or joy. The animal ego seeks solitary power—domination versus submission, of which global wars of aggression and mass-murder are a natural harvest. Even sex is nothing more than a joyless transactional power play, taking without giving, no trace of intimacy or union. That’s Ayn Rand all right. And her disciple, Alan Greenspan sums it up quite well:

        “‘Atlas Shrugged’ is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.”

        This is their culmination of happiness, the miserly, lonely, hell-bound consciousness of our current leaders and much of our authoritarian-follower cult-ure. “Sado-capitalism” is a great name for it.

        1. DiamondJammies

          It’s just plain old capitalism. Fundamentally the same as it ever was, though in times of crisis the contradictions which are usually part of the background make themselves felt throughout every aspect of our lives.

          One of the problems is that this system obliterates historical memory just as surely as it obliterates all old superstitions. And so we end up having to learn, in a Sisyphean manner, the same lessons over and over again.

        2. Lidia

          My niece & nephew’s assigned reading in grade school includes “The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby” so I’m not all that surprised that buttplugs are capturing the adult literary sphere.

  11. JohnB

    People need to stand up for themselves and quit being so f”king scared! Scared of what one might ask,..eh?

  12. Jim Haygood

    ‘The high unemployment sustained by the Federal Reserve’s corporate-focused obsession with “fighting inflation” (code for “keeping down wages”) works out well for the sado-capitalist.’

    What a charmingly naive example of money illusion!

    The author evidently feels that getting a 10% raise when inflation is 10% beats getting no raise when inflation is zero.

    Back to the Seventies, when The Story of O filled the slot that Fifty Shades of Grey occupies today!

    Plus ça change, etc.

    1. F. Beard

      You ignore that a person’s debt is nominal and that uniform inflation WOULD make it easier to service that debt.

  13. rotter

    Self Help Quack and Romance novelist,Any Rand, would love “50 shades of grey” because it is an ayn rand pastiche. “Christin Grey”? “Anastasia steele”? -give me a break thats just hilarious. Whoever owns the copyright to rands pap and dreck could probably sue on the grounds of plagarism.Of course that would force them to admit they own the rights, still it might be worth a small chunk of change.
    Overall this is good news, you’ll notice that the atlases of industry havent exposed much of mistress rands work to the pop culture garbage disposal, where it would be defined ever dumber downward.. Bring on the cable network mini series and the “anime” versions of atlas shrugged.

  14. Nattie

    I think your expectations are overly high for the book. While the quotes are accurate, the substandard dialogue and character development detract so much from the plot that it is hard for me to make parallels between the average worker, who is multifaceted, and the fictional Miss Steele, whose signature one-liner is “Oh my” and is only presented as useful as a participant in the bedroom.
    But kudos to you for making something useful out of “crap” (her favorite exclamation.

    On a related noes cirap to veal. An interesting and coincidental (or is it) footnote to the

  15. KnotRP

    I would’ve thought the original (swedish version of the movie) “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” would’ve been more appropriate to the times, but this makes me realize different
    generations view this differently. Perhaps this means the older bored boomers are “into” submission as long as someone else takes on all responsibility too, while the next generation is ready to give some bankers
    permanent tattoos and take a golf club to them….

    1. Mel

      Except to be Lisbet Salander you have to be a profound sociopath, and that has dangers of its own. If Lisbet Salander weren’t a master hacker, for instance, she’d be resourceless and probably long dead. Anastasia (it would seem) is more connected and finds herself making a deal.

      If I recall Daniel Kahneman’s account of Type 1 Thinking, the importants properties of a story is that it be coherent, recognizable and seem to be applicable. The technical merits of 50SoG aren’t so important for people who are trying to articulate what they’re doing in society.

      What they then do about it is what will come next.

  16. rotter

    One small point of disagreement. “Punk Rock” didnt really appear until the mid-late 70’s. East Village and Soho art house culture from the late 40’s and 50’s “the Beats”, never really passed completely out of fashion in those places and the “Punk Rock” style really drew heavilly from that tradition. Groups like “The Velvet Underground” and “The Fugs” were there in the late 60’s and early 70’s and kept themselves stylistically apart from the popularity of west coast Psychadellia,and Blues and Folk. But “Punk” didnt really metasticize in the lungs and brain of popular music until about 1976.The BDSM thing was already fun n games-sexy time in the swinging mid 60’s. Just watch any Hammer or Roman Polanski Horror flick from that period to see for yourself.

    1. Dave Stratman

      “Fifty Shades of Capitalism” is certainly a colorful indictment of work and life in contemporary capitalism. What perhaps is the article’s greatest insight is that it shows that capitalism is not simply an economic system; it is a system of human relations and control.

      The question remains, What can we do about it. The author aptly concludes, “Until we can link ourselves together to change this oppressive system, the Christian Greys will remain fully in control.”

      in 1815 John Adams wrote: “What do we mean by the Revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 – 1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.”

      About the time the OWS was launched, a colleague and I published an article, “Thinking about Revolution,” to contribute to the discussion about creating a better world. You can find it at http://www.newdemocracyworld.org/revolution/Thinking.pdf. Perhaps you will find it interesting.

  17. DiamondJammies

    Good on Lynn Parramore and Alternet.

    Further evidence that what was once a lonely position on the margins a few short years ago is gaining momentum as a new commonsense amongst a broad swath of left-leaning folks.

    And not a moment too soon. Impossible to find a cure without a correct diagnosis of what ails us and this piece is definitely gesturing in the right direction.

    Too early to talk about a new historical block but I feel it’s coming. The intellectual evolution of these last few years has been quite remarkable to witness.

  18. Clive

    My company (well, the one I work in anyway, if it were mine then things would be very different !) spends literally tens of millions on surveillance systems of all types — software, processes, managerial — and related enforcement. There’s also a complex system of punishment and reward. It’s all dressed up in modern commercial best practice methodology / hokum (take your pick) but intentionally or unwittingly it’s all about power and control and subjugation. Who is in what role (the dominator or the dominated) switches constantly and often you find yourself flipping from one to the other — or even both at the same time.

    Yes, it is a game. Everyone says that’s what it amounts to.

    And yet.. and yet… as a commercial entity, we’ve never been in worse shape. Our Return on Equity is dire and getting worse. Our customer satisfaction is in the toilet. Wave after wave of fines by the regulators, redress for customers who win compensation for being mis-sold or mis-advised, dismal employee satisfaction, you name it, we’ve got a bad case of it.

    Normally, in any intelligent, cognisant relationship when things get bad eventually the parties recognise the fact and say stop, enough already. If it’s hurting is ISN’T working. But not in my enterprise. The answer to the latest setback or failing is more of the same. Only harder this time.

    Very interesting Yves — being able to read that sort of feature is why I come here !

    1. Capo Regime

      Yes, a friends employer makes them use something called salesforece which is a “productivity tool” which in fact is a complete monitoring tool–put all contacts, what you did, prospects and so forth and your bosses can monitor and check up on you. He is a sales guy so by putting in all his contacts he bascially gives up his relationships built over 20 years to a firm he has been with for one year. He has refused and has been given two weeks notice.

      1. Capo Regime

        To clives point as a consultant have noticed more and more organization efforts directed ultimately at control and monitoring and fewer toward producing goods or services (or ways to do better). Also the tooth to tail ratio of firms has decreased–you need either or contracted out an entire supporting cast to do anything. the support functions in my humble opinion are dantesque places mostly……HR, benefits admin, compliance, all over IT’ed and process driven its madness……

      2. Yalt

        Got a haircut last week at one of the chain shops and despite the fact that no one was cutting when I came in, no one was able to start working on me either. Both stylists were standing next to the computer. One was waiting to clock back in from her lunch, which had to be done after precisely 30 minutes, not one minute before or after; the other had just done a buzz cut and was waiting to clock out the cut–every hair cut is required to take at least ten minutes regardless of style and if she clocked back in after seven she’d be disciplined. The company has, apparently, recently invested in the barbershop equivalent of “salesforce”.

        At the end of the cut I paid by credit card and the stylist apologized: “This is going to take a while; we still have dial-up.”

        “At least we know where their priorities are.”

        1. psychohistorian

          Thanks for the story. What a hoot…

          I am starting to believe that a new reality can emerge in this fetid swamp. It is becoming quite clear what hasn’t worked and what we don’t want going forward. We can only hope the revulsion is sufficient enough to cause structural change for the better…….gawd, I loves me my hopium….

    2. JTFaraday

      “— or even both at the same time.”

      Well that’s the essence of middle management today, no? It’s certainly not about developing the potential of one’s subordinates and, these days, who would feel secure enough to be dumb enough to do so?

  19. proximity1

    editing suggestion:

    A medieval peasant had plenty of things to worry about, but the year-round control of daily life was not one of them. Perelman points out that in pre-capitalist societies, people toiled relatively few hours over the course of a year compared to what Americans work now. They labored like dogs during the harvest, but there was ample free time during the off-seasons. Holidays were abundant – as many as 200 per year.”

    The piece works without it and I fear that it may not be historically accurate–in particular, the lead sentence: “A medieval peasant had plenty of things to worry about, but the year-round control of daily life was not one of them” doesn’t ring true to me.

    1. Capo Regime

      Read Braudel or any of the annales school of historians. In continental europe per records serfs worked 10 to 20 hours per week. Lots of hanging around and barter. Poor yes but not oerworked or controlled. Bet they don;t teach you that in schools. Does not ring true to people because of the public schools and indoctrination in progress. Everything so much better and well we really don’t teach histroy but other than as a backdrop to show present virtue. Yes, serfs had more freedom and were less controlled than we are today. Its a fact with much evidence to support it.

      1. proximity1

        for some reason, my reply to your comment didn’t “take”. I don’t know why that is, but I do know that your false and unsupported claims (previously and here) are beginning to bore me.

        Spare me further comments, please, because I’m done reading and responding to your posts.

        1. Capo Regime

          Oh you are so fatigued. Did you put your hand on your forehead as you wrote your churlish little reply…Ad hominen the sign of a twit for sure….So reasoned and so bright….

        2. Capo Regime

          No. Too bad. Get your own blog or don’t reply. Me thinks the lady doth protest way too much.

      2. JTFaraday

        The Annales school is notoriously difficult to read. You’ve read Georges Duby on the social religious ideology deployed by Frankish bishops to mask the operations of power and justify material expropriation from the serf by the temporal and spiritual powers and you’re still convinced of this?

        What’s next? The peasant of rebellion of 1525 was all the byproduct of witchcraft on the part of Martin Luther?

        1. Capo Regime

          Braudel is pretty straighforward. Was popular in the 1980’s in the U.S. Appropos of the comment of the that keen wit Proximity on not believing some plain fact and that indeed serfs were under less control than we are today etc…. You are correct, Duby is a chore….

          1. JTFaraday

            Or, well, one can read the Marxists, Engels and Belfort Bax (on-line), for a perspective that very much seeks to talk up the the idea of a labor speed up with capitalist industrialization without needing to resort to the idea that the life of the servus** in feudal society was all wine and roses and chivalry all the time, just to produce a rhetorical contrast:

            http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1850/peasant-war-germany/index.htm

            http://www.marxists.org/archive/bax/1899/peasants-war/index.htm

            **Duby traces in the archival record a transition in terms applied to the “agricultores” from the word “laborator” to the use of the term “servus” (the latin is servant or slave) with the advancement of the social formation Marc Bloch called “feudal society.”

            Words aren’t always indicative of actual lived experience, but we do also have a list of peasant uprisings as long as my arm to suggest that they were not entirely happy with the arrangement.

        2. Capo Regime

          Less control does not imply wine and roses for serfs. Less control only means less control–what they had IRS, internet, credit scoring, homeland security, surveilance cameras? No. They were poor and life was tough but they were under less control. Comprende? Braudel is more than enough to get the gist of the point. Geesh this is becoming like a faculty club….

          1. JTFaraday

            The feudal arrangement represented the regularization of material expropriation.

            That doesn’t mean the feudal arrangement precluded either the systematic practice of seigneurial oversight or randomized personal victimization of various sorts, despite the best efforts of the Church to minimize expropriation through random violence on the part of the growing class of robber knights (that they were afraid would extend to them), by seeking to constitute the feudal arrangement in the first place.

            It is true that the serfs didn’t have to worry about someone constantly spying on them on the internet– as I may be right now. But, then again, they had God for that.

            As for the IRS, that’s what feudalism is! They lived the IRS– only as John Adams was fond of pointing out– they served two tax collectors instead of one, in the form of the tag-teaming temporal and spiritual powers.

          2. JTFaraday

            ie., if “they were just poor,” whatever they had didn’t belong to them either.

            No different, really, from being part of Marshall Auerbach’s minimum wage slave-stock, while still having to buy your groceries on credit and tithing usurious interest to Robert Rubin (is he still at Citibank?)

  20. The Gizmo51

    Who said “history repeats itself”? I don’t know but I do know that just as the Nazi Germans marched the goosestep in unison destroying everything that got in their way, the republinos are marching the vote in unison destroying everything that gets in their way. Just as the Germans followed one mind the republinos follow one mind. I urge caution and that we fight to avoid America becoming just another example of “history repeating itself”.

    1. Capo Regime

      You really thing the republinos are worse than and democrinos? At this late date you believe in party differences. Now thats buying into a huge lie…….NDAA, Geitner, drones, yes the democrinos are one with the people natch….

    2. jake chase

      It was Karl Marx: history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy the second as farce. It’s from the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, fortunately at the very beginning since I’ve never managed to wade through the entire thing. Kind of funny, since nobody ever repeated himself more than Marx, except maybe F. Beard.

  21. Ep3

    Yves, I know you are probably either ignoring or it doesn’t apply to this blog, the Penn state situation.
    But I want to bring it up in relation to this post. At penn state, these coaches thought they were gods and above the common man’s laws. And they were treated and hailed like that. Worshiped was joe paterno. But at the heart of this wonderful institution was the willingness to ignore basic human dignity all in the name of the wealth and power of the sports programs.
    Look at the new Orleans saints football team. They were praised for their super bowl run in 2010 as the comeback of the city. Well come to find out, coaches were rewarding players if they “took out” certain players, and the bigger the injury, the greater the reward. $5000 to take out Bret favre for 2 quarters. $20,000 if he was out the rest of the game. And then don’t forget the travesty to democracy that steroids were to baseball. Besides the fact that players were in trial while bankers were blowing up the world economy and robbing it blind. After the players strike in the early 90s, fans were leaving the sport en masse. Owners had to do something to reignite interest. All of a sudden, home run numbers began to skyrocket. Roger Maris’s famous record was broken. Fans came back. Revenues stabilized.
    I guess my point is that when money is involved, you can lie cheat steal whatever and as long as it makes mega bucks for whoever, the rules don’t apply.

  22. Clinteastwood

    Good grief Yves, you have forgotten history. If the unions had not been so abusive in their demands on society in the 70s and early 80s, the American people would never have reelected Ronald Regan in a landslide. America doesn’t forget those abuses to this day. That’s why union membership continues to decline.

    To attempt to apply some of the tawdry examples in the latest porn novel to the American workplace/economy is a flaky stretch. You have intellect and writing skills. Can’t you think of a wiser way to use them?

  23. aletheia33

    “The hypnotic consumption Christian offers in a world replete with fancy dinners and helicopter rides – goodies that will be revoked if she fails to obey — overturns her natural desire for free will.” this sounds awfully simplistic to me.

    it’s interesting to read the customer reviews of the book on amazon. a good number of them are quite cognizant of the poor entertainment quality and stupidity of this so-called novel and say they wish they had not bought it. many of the raves read like they were written by teenaged girls.

    my following comments are rather obvious and could be better stated by others in just a few well-put words i’m sure.

    as a sign of the zeitgeist, to my mind this entertainment product (it really doesn’t qualify for the name “book”), more than anything one might try to make it suggest about u.s. workplace culture, makes a more useful example merely of the development of ever more sophisticated marketing based on appeal to primal sexual instinct, and that and the sucker born every minute are nothing new. i don’t see much illumination of reality on the ground in tying in the fantasy-serving action in this piece of pure light pornography with absolutely no redeeming social value, which most people seem to recognize delivers for one’s few dollars only a few moments of titillation (if that), with the ruthless game of the u.s. workplace.

    people choose to stay, and fight just to stay, in such places because of real compulsions, especially the need to clothe, feed, and maintain the physical health of their children. this is rational and practical. an abused woman who recognizes how few options she may have for supporting her children independently may have lost any illusions about or enchantment by the motives of her abuser yet still choose to remain with him in order to give her children what she considers a better life than she thinks she can give them on her own. this is not sexual or emotional fascination but rational choice based on the information one has. the problem here is not delusion but ignorance. people do have to make choices between bad and worse (the question whether they have to do so in national elections aside), but in the real effort to get by i like to think that they generally do recognize the quality of the choices they are faced with. the decision to purchase an entertainment product as an adjunct to sexual fantasy is so far from the decision of remain in an abusive workplace i can see no useful illumination to be made in connecting them–except to the obvious fact, which parramore mentions, that the former, for many people, by conscious choice, serves as a temporary escape from and an ersatz and fleeting antidote to what one is enduring in the latter.

    anastasia is purveyed as hypnotized by the projection of her own power cravings that she does not recognize she has (yet). but people who are stuck in the punitive workplace well understand their corporate “masters'” motivations and modus operandi. they well recognize the nature of the power game they are in, and that it is being “played” for real stakes.

    as far as i can tell, the vast majority of people will compromise on just about anything to protect and further what they perceive as the well-being and prospects of their children. this is one of the primary ways that people come to be “owned” by their employers and by the system of work in our society. only someone who has, while a parent, walked away from oppression in the full understanding of the consequences their children will suffer and worked through that choice in such a way that their children’s sense of freedom, not just their own, is enhanced, can speak authoritatively about what it means to “claim one’s freedom” or even to desire “freedom”.

    so let us not forget the real-life complications inherent in the seeking of “freedom,” a rather new and a romantic ideal, or that the aspiration to “freedom” has long been coopted by (what used to be termed) madison avenue.

    i’ll take the deeply reflected-on wisdom, societal observation, and voice of a barbara ehrenreich any day over the not particularly illuminating cultural investigation here. parramore generally reports well and with admirable passion on what is going down. here she appears to be dabbling in a different game. or perhaps “practicing” on the way to mastery would be a kinder description.

    1. JTFaraday

      So, most individual actors are indeed self aware and rationale ones and not victims of workplace Stockholm syndrome?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome

      Can we say the same thing as a culture?

      If we cannot, then how does it happen that the rational and self aware individuals who make up the collective, suddenly become susceptible to Stockholm syndrome as a culture?

      1. Capo Regime

        How does it happen? Its starts by people using wikipedia whether for guidance and or support. You will then progress to government reports and the new york times.

        1. JTFaraday

          No, the Guardian, actually. The little Anastasias claim they are victims of Stockholm syndrome:

          “There is something of the Stockholm syndrome, where juniors end up identifying with the people giving them hell. Somebody gets treated like shit all day by his line manager, we’d go for a drink and he’d still speak very fondly of him. You’d get shat upon for days by your line manager, then one day he’d say something halfway nice and you’d feel elated.

          Again, not all seniors were like that. My first line manager probably said hello to me less than five times my first six months on the job. The person who sat between us was always late so it’s not like there was a barrier. It was just business. We were there to make money, not friends.”

          http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/joris-luyendijk-banking-blog/2012/jul/13/former-investment-banker

        2. reslez

          How fortunate for you he chose to link to Wikipedia. You can criticize that instead of his actual argument.

  24. allis

    It may make sense to speak of a market when it is a “trading post,” where the sellers and buyers are free to bargain over the price of finished goods.

    However, the goods produced for the trading post are rarely produced in a market; they are produced in “workshops.” From the earliest days of civilization to today, with few exceptions, the workshops that provide goods for the trading posts have been manned by servile labor, whether temple slaves, chattel slaves, debt slaves, serfs, indentured servants, or “free labor,” who, having no access to property of their own, are free to starve if they don’t like the workshop. A free market implies some sort of equality between the bargainers. To call workshops a free markets does George Orwell one better.

    Employers want no abridgment of their “liberty.” The Roman legal term “libertas,” as David Graeber noted in his book “Debt,” gave the owner of property absolute authority, “dominium,” over his property. The most important property was human beings, aka slaves. The liberty of the master is always a denial of rights for the slave or hireling. Any increases in the freedom and security of slaves and hirelings are necessarily abridgments of the master’s liberty. “Liberty” implies the right to demand compliance; this “liberty” is incompatible with a free market, where one can always refuse an offer. Without bargaining rights, there can be neither freedom nor fairness…nor a “market.”

  25. kevinearick

    just so you know, many bosses are committing suicide, only to be replaced by the next rung of teeth. It’s a bit of an epidemic in mason-ville right now.

    they just cannot live without their false assumptions…

  26. steve from virginia

    Thanks for the article.

    – All of the economies (credit, political and the bio-physical) exist within culture, in our case, pop culture. The gain of money in exchange for illusions is ‘art’: you take art where you find it. (Emphasis on take.)

    – Quote from article: “This has been coming for some time. Ever since the Reagan era, from the factory to the office tower, the American workplace has been morphing for many into a tightly-managed torture chamber of exploitation and domination. Bosses strut about making stupid commands. Employees trapped by ridiculous bureaucratic procedures censor themselves for fear of getting a pink slip.”

    Low-level magistrates in junior courts offering ‘pink-slip fear’ unraveled Occupy Wall Street in a heartbeat. A college student tens of thousands in debt cannot jeopardize his- or her chance at an income … for an ‘ideal’.

    – The idea of productive industrial enterprise is incorrect. Industry cannot exist without debt subsidy. If this were not so there would be no debts and the productivity of industry would have retired them (!)

    – The contest (or dialectic in the Marxist term) has existed since the beginning of the industrial era two hundred years before Adam Smith: this is the all-out dispute between the central and its economies of scale versus everything else. The contest has manifest itself in massive world wars (at least six beginning with the Spanish conquest of the New World), periodic depressions, the Cold War and the current expression of neo-liberalism and the Washington Consensus. Sadism in the workplace is a small part of a much greater whole.

    How can Mercedes not be sadistic when it employed tens of thousands of slaves under starvation condtions in lagers underground in Germany and elsewhere making aircraft engines for the Third Reich? It has proven itself.

    – Influence has shifted from dominance of political economy by military men and clergy toward dominance by loan sharks/money lenders. A differernt group must be put in charge of economies: executing money lenders might be a good place to start.

    – Pop culture is on its death ride, bent on consuming all remaining resources (someone else will do so if I don’t) and destroying whatever appears to hinder this destruction dynamic. Underway is the contest between different groups of resource consumers as well as a rear guard action on the part of those seeking to preserve some resources after the current order collapses.

    – There are two outcomes: destructive consumption will be stopped administratively or there will be violent revolution or a series of revolutions leaving the survivors incapable of any consumption at all.

  27. Dan Kervick

    The fantasy of turning the tables on the boss speaks to the deep-seated outrage that trickle-down policies and the war on workers has wrought.

    I would like to comment on this, but I do most of my writing on a company laptop, and my company has access to everything I say.

  28. MacCruiskeen

    I had not realized there was this randian subtext to the 50 Shades books. But this (and their success) reminds me of having to listen to John Norman complain (every chance he got) about the great publishing conspiracy keeping his Tarnsman of Gor novels out of print. Norman is a dedicated worshiper of Rand and his novels are basically S&M porn with randian overtones. It probably cheeses him off that this James person is making buckets of cash while he fades into well-deserved obscurity. Or at least, I hope it does.

  29. Severe

    We’ve been doomed since the 1970’s when people started being called “consumers” instead of “citizens.”

    1. JTFaraday

      I’m starting to think the problem is deeper than that. I think the problem extends back to considering people workers instead of citizens– particularly in a capitalist economic system where workers have no inherent rights– a logic that is increasingly being extended to our position within the liberal capitalist state itself.

      We need to reassert our rights as citizens and human beings against this logic, but we keep thinking we’re going to accomplish this by accepting the worker frame that capitalism (and its apparent “opposite” Marxism/socialism) has placed around us, which (both) effectively turn us into “factors of production.”

      Thus, when “there is no work” we are left with no framework for asserting our social significance.

      It is here that we then see people who reject the “consumer” label themselves sending consumerism riding to the rescue, (futilely) telling the financial capitalists (with a printing press) that we’re consumers in need of cash to keep the financial capitalists going.

      I think that Fordist model may be busted. But boy, is it ever hard to surrender your chains.

      I may or may not “want a job.” But I definitely want my citizenship back.

      1. JTFaraday

        In other words, we don’t want to be reduced to supplicants to a******s who don’t need us, we have rights and purposes of our own.

  30. casino implosion

    And yet, when Wall Street guys patronize kinky sex workers, it’s usually in order to pay to be dominated. Go figure.

  31. psychohistorian

    I received an email from a friend today that speaks to this subject in a broader way…and it is as followk:

    Happy Summer in the Long Recession,

    Sometimes called the Grand Depression because the grandchildren are moving in with the grandparents.

    David Cay Johnston has found a boodle of cash… about $13,000 for every resident of the US of A.

    Here is his report in short video form: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ia4QwztEjxg

    Please watch it (now)and find trillions… then read on………………..

    Obviously, some business models work.

    This is coincident with the recent superb reporting on Amazon by the Financial Times. Amazon, which has not paid state taxes on its sales for most of its 17 years now has two million businesses depending upon it. Too big to fail? It is bigger than Apple, Walmart and Dell Computers put together. It makes technology sing…. yet puts villages out of business. Soon Amazon expects to have same day delivery. So, you wonder:

    Why no jobs? Efficiency, that is why. Got a problem with that?

    Yes you do, if you do not have a job. But wait?

    Are we lacking? Are we lacking in food, or stuff or gadgets? Nope.

    We just have evolved (sorry, creationists) to the efficient economy that all our productivity gains have delivered. Our economy is fine. It is just so efficient that we, as David Cay Johnston says… do not have enough demand.

    But wait, again! If we all had 40 hour a week jobs, each of us would need an appetite one hundred times that of our parents. Landfills would become mountain ranges and so called global warming, better named irrevocable climate change would revoke our agriculture making all ungovernable because of mass migration of large populations seeking refuge from flood, fire, drought or famine and unruly climate conditions.

    Meanwhile presidential candidates want to find people jobs. Cannot they see the horizon? We are the richest country in the world and cannot make our society work because we cannot share. We must rethink work.

    We need to rethink income distribution. Ether we have Amazon, Apple, and robots or we have the protestant work ethic. Which? Not Both.

    Give it a think.

    yours,
    David Bean

  32. Ned

    Madame LaFarge awaits in some dim cubicle somewhere.
    The guillotine will be replaced by something more efficient and portable.

  33. Not a speedreader

    Please don’t attack me for commenting without reading the book or the post. Only Leonova can read everything. I do however have some clear impressions about the book from my usual scanning. It is this: that the book’s popularity derives from appealing to young marrieds in the modernized Park Slope area of Brooklyn, New York; young married women, decently brought up and educated well enough to afford an upper middle class life style who have the leisure, the learned obedience and boredom of required but lousy sex.

  34. Jack Parsons

    This sounds like the movie “Secretary” without the brains. If you want to understand S&M, watch Secretary. James Spader & Maggie Gyllenhaal are awesome.

  35. Kunst

    I have long had a theory that every manager should have to get a majority vote of confidence from all of his/her subordinates once a year. That would extend from the first-line supervisor with 5-10 employees up to a CEO with 100,000 subordinates. If you can’t get half the people who work for you to say that you should keep your job, you shouldn’t.

    1. Nathanael

      They tried this in the early Soviet Union. The bosses got tired of it pretty quickly and started arranging reasons to stop it. They usually managed to stop it.

      1. Kunst

        Any idealism in the early SU died early. I don’t think this suggestion was compatible with Stalin’s management style.

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