Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sut Jhally's Modest Claim About Advertising

I transcribe the opening line from his speech here.  You can watch the video to see if he justifies it.

My modest claim is that advertising is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history and it's cumulative cultural and political effects unless very quickly checked will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it.  In the process of acheiving this the masters of the advertising system, global corporations bent on nothing but private profits, will be responsible for the deaths of millions of people, mostly non-Western.  In addition the peoples of the world will be prevented from achieving true happiness.  Simply stated our survival as a species is dependent upon minimizing the threat from advertising and the commercial culture that has spawned it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tax The Rich - Animated Short

A fun and informative animated short narrated by Ed Asner recounting some of the historical facts about our current economic problems.  The right wing is wrong across the board.  Wrong that trickle down economics works, wrong that high tax rates on the rich harm the economy, wrong that deregulated finance would lead to prosperity, wrong that global warming is a liberal hoax.  Just wrong wrong wrong, but they have the money.  So they pay for think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute to lie to us.  They pay for the major media to obscure and misdirect.  And unfortunately those billions spent trying to deceive us simply work.  These are not stupid people.  They wouldn't blow all this money if it wasn't effective.

Here's another effort to cut through the fog created by the super rich.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Voices From the Other Side

I stumbled upon a few different commentaries recently of people familiar that have experience with the "other side" that I thought were interesting.  The "other side" meaning people in countries on the US enemies list.  It's always difficult to filter through the US propaganda system and know what's going on, so I think these first hand accounts, none of which are via corporate media, are informative.

Here's one from a historian discussing the difference between Soviet movies and movies in the US.  Did the Soviets similarly portray the US as the villain that is vanquished by the handsome hero from an eastern bloc country?

The next is from a guy that recently visited Cuba and offers pictures of decked pimped vehicles.

Finally a German citizen went to Pyongyang.  He talks about the treatment he received from his handlers, what they were like, what restrictions were placed on him.  Very informative.  I didn't even know Americans likewise could travel to N Korea.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Used Cars

Tough break for me.  I need a transmission rebuild.  And it's not for my old beater mini-van.  It's the "nice" car.  My '05 Accord.  A bit surprising.  A bit disappointing.  In fairness I should probably also point out that my '95 Windstar also had a transmission rebuild.  It was back in '03 that I needed that repair.

Still, I can't complain, and I think it's interesting to notice that (according to my estimates) even though lightning has struck me (now twice) still I'm much better off having bought a used car instead of a new one.

I bought my Accord in '07 for $13K.  I could have bought new of course and probably avoided the expensive repair, but at what cost?  If I were to follow that same path today what would I be looking at?  In other words suppose today I was again faced with the choice of buying a new car or a three year old car.

Here's my effort to run the numbers.  This assumes that if I were to buy today I would need financing, like I would have to do if I bought a new car.  What would I be looking at for a 5 year cost?  Here's what I came up with.  Note I have an annualized cost and cost over a 10 year period as well for some further comparisons below.

I've got full insurance coverage on both and a rough estimate of my total repair cost over the last 5 years (trans repair as well as new tires, new brakes, a few other maintenance items).  Even though I'm assuming bad luck in terms of repairs I'd still be $13K ahead over a 5 year period, twice that over 10 years.

But let's compare also to what I actually experienced with my two cars.

What's the point here?  This is not a blog about financial advice.  But it is often about consumption and how corporations have a vested interest in deceiving consumers, persuading them to make irrational choices.  My van has cost about $1K/year to own.  If I were to listen to the commercials you see during the Super Bowl I might be convinced that I need the status that comes with a new car.  I need the confidence it brings.  It's the key to happiness.  I deserve it.  And over 10 years I'd have $53K less in my pocket.  Remember, that's net $.  After tax dollars.  I'd have to earn about $75K to be able to afford a typical new car.  If I were to upgrade to cooler car, like an SUV, pay thousands more due to the additional fuel required, etc, of course it would be even worse.

There are costs not factored into this equation.  When my van breaks down it's a hassle.  When the heater doesn't work right it's irritating.  The A/C doesn't work.  What is that worth?  Tough to say.  These are subjective questions.  For me though the choice is easy.  When my vehicle breaks down I'll dry my tears with some $100 bills from my pile of $53K.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Rational Utility Maximizers

Standard classroom economic theory is based on the assumption that people are "Rational Utility Maximizers."  When people make choices about what to purchase they generally pay more for things that are more in their best interest.  That is, things that bring them greater value, whether pleasure, knowledge they are seeking, etc.  When prices are allowed to move freely people make their purchasing decisions based on the value a product brings.  The corresponding demand and supply leads to a price that is regarded as Pareto Optimal.  As I understand this is leading to what is regarded as an "efficient" distribution of goods.  You've essentially maximized the overall utility.  Artificial distortions of the price can improve the utility condition for some, but it does so at the expense of others, and the overall utility is reduced.  For the economist this is bad so of course free market pricing is preferred.

Rational Utility Maximization seems like an OK first order approximation.  I'm not going to buy and eat a shit sandwich no matter how much marketing comes with it.  But do you think marketing executives agree with these assumptions when it comes to advertising?  As I've mentioned a while back I'm been trying to learn Chinese, and in the process I've looked at various teaching methodologies.  Here's one thing that pops out for me as I gather opinions.  Rosetta Stone is not highly regarded.  Here's one person's effort at evaluating the opinion of successful and non-successful language learners.  Rosetta Stone is regarded as the worst.  Few of the successful learners questioned regard it as helpful.  In terms of which is regarded as the worst RS is far and away in the lead, both among successful and non-successful learners.  I've spent a lot of time reading websites that discuss self teaching language methodologies.  This fits the pattern.

So isn't it strange to notice that not only is RS far and away the best selling language learning product on the market.  It's one of the more expensive products available.  And according one person's polling efforts the people that have used it and succeeded at language learning think it's the worst product available.  What the hell is going on?

Is it possible that the economists are (once again) wrong?  RS has the biggest marketing apparatus of any language learning tool.  As I understand the software is very flashy and impressive.  Does this encourage people to make a rational choice when it comes to selecting a language learning product?

RS is prepared to shell out big bucks for spokespeople.  We all remember Michael Phelps in Beijing, right?  It was a natural fit for RS.  Get Phelps to be a spokesmen.  You can go here to watch the commercial.  You also get another treat at that link.  Phelps on Fox News Business discussing how it's going.  So how was it going?  Well apparently it was tough for Michael, but at least he's starting to get the masculine and feminine terms down.  Like you know how in Spanish some words are masculine, like sombrero (hat), and others are feminine, like silla (chair).

But there's a slight problem.  Chinese doesn't assign gender to words.  Is RS so bad that it taught Chinese incorrectly?

Probably not of course.  I think it's safe to assume that Michael didn't use RS much if at all.  This is pretty pathetic, right?  At least Jenny Craig uses spokespeople that have used the system and succeeded.  But for the marketing executives at RS that's obviously unnecessary.  What you need is to just pay a famous person enough to mouth the words "RS will teach you Chinese really fast" and people will go out and buy it.  That's not rational utility maximization.  Instead it's how the real world works.

So who are we going to believe?  RS marketing executives and their $200 million in sales?  Or the economists with their fancy equations?  Or maybe we should assume that the polling of successful language learners was somehow mistaken.  I think the economists are pretty impressed with their own fancy equations, but because reality is not permitted to pop their bubble they are unaware that it's all wrong, and we are likewise expected to accept their assertions on the proper (free market) allocation of goods and services.