While I was watching football this morning, Fox aired a Walmart commercial that got me barking mad. Maybe it was the fact that my Seahawks were getting dismantled by the Cowboys, maybe it was the crying baby I was trying to bottle feed, maybe it was the high-fructose laden Kellog’s Corn Flakes getting soggy by my feet, not sure, but it riled me up enough to write a blog.
The ad went a little something like this. “Buy more of our stuff because we can save the average family three-thousand dollars a year.” I hope to keep this short and sweet, but there is a little back story necessary.
A couple of years ago I got into a minor argument with my Republican (closet Libertarian) uncle about capitalism. His point was that true capitalism (capitalism unencumbered by the institution of a real free-market economy), through competition, can theoretically drive the cost of a product down to zero. In essence, free-range capitalism is tasty because, once enveloped by the principle of free market, living doesn’t cost anything anymore.
This is not the only lie of capitalism, but it is a potent one. American capitalism is still stuck in the hyperreality of the early 20th century, where Enlightenment optimism, empirical ideals, and the hope of industrialization and nuclear power created a desert of economy where the history of a product was lost in conception of its circulation.
In short, America forgot that life cost something. Forget the existential crises of the 20th century, WW I and II, Hiroshima, the cold war, for the zeitgeist of economics had not yet fallen prey to the anxiety of the gap between the attempt to extend the model of the new real (the hyperreal) into the old one. Religion, philosophy, geo-politics, art, all seemed to grasp something that capitalism ignored: the ontological insubstantia of every model extended, superimposed, embossed upon the real.
Walmart is perpetrating this notion that living doesn’t cost (or to be true to their own wording, living costs less). In this sense, Walmart must be like heaven then, a place where thieves cannot break in and steal, because why would thieves steal something that didn’t have value. What we’re left with then, is the practical fallout of the capitalist nightmare. That capitalism does drive the cost down toward nothing, but not through some alchemical form of circulation.
But how? This is where we discover the lie. Walmart is cutting the cost of living for you by exacting that same cost from those who produce and sell their goods. They work hard so you don’t have to. They give up homes so that you can perpetuate the ongoing lie of the middle class. They go hungry so that you can put the excess in a landfill.
In this way, American capitalism is just feudalism writ large. The one with the biggest standing army, the one with the most impregnable castle can exact more than they need from those who actually produce it.
Not enough room left for Corn Flakes, or the cost of living. Stay tuned.