Connect with us

Headline News

Starbucks v Dunkin’: how capitalism gives us the illusion of choice

greenbay

Published

on

American culture valorizes the small. Small-town life is overrepresented and romanticized on the screen – think Hawkins in Stranger Things – a form of escapism in a country where 80% of people live in a city, but two in five say they’d prefer a rural or small-town home. Likewise companies: US adults are three times as likely to have a “very favorable” view of small businesses as they are of large enterprises (59% v 17%), according to a 2018 survey from the Public Affairs Council.

The nostalgia for small-town life and “mom and pop” stores stands in stark contrast not only to an urbanized population but the power of large companies. Capitalism is an engine of choice-making and competition, but very often the competition is between brands owned by the same company, or between small numbers of large economic players. Smallness rules the imagination; bigness rules the high street.

From the moment we wake up to eat our cereal and brush our teeth, our consumer choices are dominated by a handful of large companies.

7.30am

You brush every morning, right? Good. And there are so very many pastes to choose from. But most of these are produced by one of the three companies that dominate the market: Crest (20%), Colgate (21%) and Sensodyne (12%).

8am

A meal created by modernity, cereal has become a staple of western diets (unfortunately, but that’s another story). And it does not come artisan crafted from down the road, but from huge companies: Kellogg and General Mills have virtually carved the market up between them, accounting for almost a third of sales each.

8.30am

Most Americans drive to work, and most do so in a car manufactured by one of four companies: General Motors, Ford, Toyota or Fiat Chrysler. Together these four account for 60% of car sales. That said, the next five companies account for 30%: Honda, Nissan, Subaru, Hyundai and Kia. Here at least there seems to be some pretty robust competition, not least from overseas. But let’s see if that lasts.

9am

Grab a coffee on the way to the office? Chances are it will either be from Starbucks (40% market share) or Dunkin’ (22%). When it comes to caffeine, not much choice across companies is required, it seems.

10am

The first things millions of Americans do when they sit at work, maybe coffee still in hand, is logon. Seven out of ten will do so via Microsoft Windows, another 20% using the Apple OS operating system.

1pm

Unless blocked by company policy, there is a good chance of visiting some social media sites during the day. For all its travails, Facebook remains the big daddy, with a 37% market share, followed by YouTube at 27%.

6pm

Calling a friend for after-work plans? That will be with an iPhone, most likely (55% market share): or perhaps a Samsung (25%). Either way, the chances are it will be using either Verizon or AT&T, who between them control two-thirds of the wireless market.

Big companies dominate consumption. This is not a bad thing in itself. Companies get big by winning customers, and they win customers by providing a good product and/or service, which is the whole point of consumer markets. Different divisions of large companies may compete against each other; consumers are often unaware that they are choosing between two products owned by the same company. The problem comes if success leads to incumbency, with large, powerful companies able to use their power to shape regulations to suit them, rather than assist their competitors. Being market-friendly is not the same thing as being business-friendly, a confusion common to politicians. Big is neither beautiful nor bad, so long as regulators remain faithful to consumers, rather than the companies serving them.

Continue Reading

Headline News

Saoirse McHugh: We need to talk about capitalism

greenbay

Published

on

N HER FORTNIGHTLY column for TheJournal.ie, Saoirse McHugh of the Green Party writes about what we can do as individuals in the face of climate chaos.   

A most ludicrous situation is taking place in which we are disrupting weather systems we have relied on for centuries, poisoning drinking water, destroying habitats that provide food and fuel and pushing ourselves outside of the relatively stable climate we have enjoyed for the past few thousand years.

Despite all of this, most of our media and the great majority of our politicians refuse to talk about the reason why I believe this is happening. What is driving us to continue down such a grim and unpredictable path? The answer is capitalism.

Extracting profit from resources (often privately owned) and labour only to reinvest in further extraction has wreaked havoc on our world. The accumulation of profit as a shaping force in society leaves so much unaccounted for and undervalued.

In general, there is no cost given to implications such as resource use, pollution, and (much and all as I don’t like the term) ecosystem services such as air and water cleaning, pollination and nitrogen cycling.

When these are factored into cost it can have an alleviating impact, but of course the natural world does not trade in dollars and no amount of money can ever compensate for species extinction, coral reefs dying or the damage caused by oil spills like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

The need for growth and the relentless expansion into and enclosing of new commons, such as carbon use and genetic information, means that capitalism is entirely incompatible with a finite planet and a just world.

Despite all this it is rare to hear our economic system discussed openly in Ireland outside of a few groups or lone politicians. It has developed the impression of being outside of our control, almost like some God imposed this system upon us.

When the conversation comes up politically, our elected representatives shy away from it and speak in vague terms about prosperity and growth. They do not delve into the idea that not only do we have the power to begin changing our economic system, but we have a moral and environmental imperative to do so.

‘But look at North Korea and Cuba’ 

I am not fully sure why there is such hesitancy to speak about capitalism. Is it because decades of American television have well and truly damaged the ability to talk about it without somebody bringing up the Soviet Union and communism?

I myself have had so many conversations where capitalism comes up and is met with: “But look at North Korea and Cuba, look at how many people died in Soviet Russia.” No doubt atrocities occurred in countries which were under a different economic system.

However, that argument ignores and minimises the atrocities that have been carried out in capitalist countries. The suffering and destruction capitalism has caused and is continuing to cause in the world is immeasurable.

It is a system with its origins in colonialism and to this very day there is a massive extraction of wealth from previously colonised countries. The social, physical, and economic violence used to keep these relationships in place is beyond comprehension and much of it has become accepted as normal.

It is ridiculous to talk about environmentalism without talking about capitalism, yet many people do so. Not only is it a part of our lives but it is the system within which we all operate.

It is all that most of us have ever known and for that reason people tend to avoid the conversation, perhaps for fear of looking radical or outside of the world of common sense.

The promises of green growth or sustainable capitalism are tempting, yet I fear that every year spent chasing these will-o-the-wisps is a year lost while continuing to worsen our predicament.

There will be no climate justice until we move to a different economic system. We need to halt the extraction of wealth from previously colonized countries and, more than that, repay and compensate these countries as fully as possible.

Obviously, it is not just capitalism that damages the environment. There are discussions of petroleum-based socialism and of communism focused on growth, which are extremely damaging too but we have arrived at a time where capitalism is the dominant economic model.

There is no point in skirting around the issue, we need to transform our economies and recognise that any politician who is not engaging in the conversation about our economic model and ways to change it is wasting everyone’s time. 

Continue Reading

Headline News

Letter: Socialism may not be the cure but capitalism is the illness

greenbay

Published

on

Socialism may not be the cure but capitalism is the illness. All Hanson offers is more of the same prescriptions that brought us to climate change, inequality, huge government, corporate and private debts, erosion of our infrastructure, a health care crisis, international turmoil, etc.

How about some ownership and something new? If we redefine the goal as sustainability instead of growth, universal equity in services and opportunity, building community instead of dominance, and building a world for the seventh generation in the future, then we must acknowledge that capitalism as we have known it is broken.

Rather than try to pigeonhole the opposition with a derogatory label, let’s find a way to utilize human character to fulfill the promise of a better world for all living creatures both now and in the future.

Continue Reading

Headline News

Let’s restore our values, do away with capitalism

greenbay

Published

on

One of the worst things that colonialism, apartheid and capitalism did to our people was to destroy the black family structures, the writer says.

In this past decade, we witnessed a degeneration of politics across the spectrum, with social media, notwithstanding its use, becoming the worst platform for corrosive politics.

We also witnessed moral degeneration and character assassination as influenced by capitalism.

The moral degeneration in SA is very high and that directly reflects the politics of our country.

This open letter is an invitation for us, more especially ANC and Alliance partners, to think critically about who we are as a society and perhaps champion ways in which we can restore some of the values that we have lost.

No more buyers for the escapism Top Billing is selling

Of all the feasts and feats of Top Billing in the past 23 years, there are perhaps not enough Gucci slides that can quite help it dodge its flip and …Opinion1 month ago

One of the worst things that colonialism, apartheid and capitalism did to our people was to destroy the black family structures. And one of our loopholes as the ANC from 1994 onwards was not to restore our values of ubuntu and revive the black family unit.

Twenty-five years into democracy, it is in our hands as ANC to dissociate ourselves with capitalism because capitalism is an evil that causes the corruption we are seeing now.

It is capitalist ideas that are behind killings of our comrades.

Capitalism is an inherently evil system that thrives on hate, jealousy and inhumanity.

Viwe Sidali, Duncan Village, East London

Continue Reading

Trending