Saturday, May 16, 2020

The House of Fashion

This morning I read about the retailers, J Crew a more mainstream source of clothing for the aspiring prepster and Neiman Marcus for the aspiring and/or wealthy customer whose Christmas catalogs are something to see as they include specialized vehicles, trips next to high fashion and chic bags.  Neiman's redefined luxury retail.  And their death is for now delayed as they file for Chapter 11 they owe much of their demise to of course the Vulture Capitalists who used debt to finance their own incomes and line their Brioni Suit pockets with outrages fees and interest the stores were forced to pay versus make investment in the actual retail outlets and build their e-commerce platform as they should to compete with the flowing river that is composed of cash, Amazon.  But even the allure of high fashion is now something Bezos wishes to come aboard that port as well as he moves in a new circle of high fashion friends.  Go figure we all like to look good, well unless your at home during a pandemic then the once chic athleisure wear is now replaced with pandemic chic sleep/loungewear.

I remember my first time going to Neiman's in Texas where they began and the awe of wonder and beauty that this store defined. I grew up in retail as my Mother began at a small company that was once called Nordstrom Best and it too evolved and may also find itself on the same train that Barney's, Sears, Penny's, Lord and Taylor, Henri Bendel,  and Macy's have already boarded and some have since departed to be distant memories on the trip to the retail dead zone.  There are a lot of retailers that I have memories of that were consolidated into other brands and some that just simply shut their doors to be vacant fronts of once thriving industry that ran from the high to the low everything in between.  They sold shoes, drugs, hardware, books and toys and all of that we can now buy on Amazon. Wow that is distressing if not again wrong on so many levels.   There is a Wiki page dedicated to the corpses of this industry and many I recall growing up with, going to, shopping or even working at and learning a trade and building my skills that eventually led me to being a Teacher.  I can tell you if you can sell shoes to women and men you can certainly learn to peddle knowledge to kids, the joke was I made more money doing that than I did as a Teacher.

Retail was unionized when I worked in that business and in turn Nordstrom was the first to offer profit and share which we have since seen as stock options in the tech sector creating the billionaire class that largely think they know everything about everything and then they don't.  I recall the dot com collapse, the 2008 one and now Pandemia which has exposed how fraught they truly are as they run on the fuel of bullshit and the backs of others in a way that retail did.  Using women, lowly educated and/or poorly trained people to sell, pimp or push a product that is marked up beyond value to give it a label of import, ironically made by lowly paid, often "slave" labor.  And that is a cycle that is glorified, glamourized and showcased in magazines, movies and tv.  Well it was as even that industry of  fashion has taken its hits to its bow and that ship is sinking as well.  But Captain Bezos is now hitting that port as well.  Well he did capsize the Project Runway monopoly with his ironically titled, In the Cut even taking its hosts with him; Don't Pirates always take some booty? But it was less about reality as that show was facing a crisis of its own, over their former Captain, Harvey Weinstein, who also was very involved with all the details of his business, even marrying a designer who in some odd perverse fashion of  dressed his victims, whoops I mean stars.  But, fashion  is always about stars and led by Anna Wintour she made sure who was in and who was not.  But even she too may be on a sinking ship.  Vogue may exist but in less glossy pages and fewer issues that women will use to idolize and demonize themselves over not having the latest, the it bag and the shoes that someone died for.  Literally.

And the rich will profit off the death of those victims of Covid. I have written often about the hypocrisy of Gates and his ilk and this is no different.  Zuckerberg is killing it to use a pun on Facebook as is Bezos and that Buffet is shedding stocks like a virus is another who while promising to give he used the pandemic to fire all the workers at his business, Cort Furniture, and hire temporary workers stopping an attempt to unionize the shops.  How convenient.  Some things just work out.  And for now there are attempts to be ethical and step up to protect workers,  but I don't expect it to last as that affects the bottom line. Think of it like a disease, the Midas Touch in reverse, they kill everything they touch.

Billionaires are playing savior now. But they broke the economy to begin with.
Let’s not get too excited about rich people’s philanthropy during coronavirus.

By Tara Isabella Burton|The Washington Post|May 15, 2020
         Tara Isabella Burton is a Religion News Service columnist. She is the author of “Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World” 

As the coronavirus pandemic rages across the United States, the nation’s titans of industry have begun to style themselves as heroes by pledging millions of dollars to health care. Twitter and Square chief executive Jack Dorsey offered $1 billion — just under a third of his wealth — to fight the virus. Oprah Winfrey has donated $10 million. Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt have teamed up to fund the Pandemic Action Network, which seeks to influence world governments to increase their own spending on global health initiatives such as the World Health Organization.

It is tempting to laud these figures as self-made men and women paying back the spoils of their success to the rest of us. But the United States relies on, and worships, individual billionaires and their charitable efforts precisely because the country is so broken. The cultural and economic systems that made these people successful exist at the expense of the collective good. The quintessential American myth of the clever bootstrapper lionizes someone who triumphs despite the derelictions of government, infrastructure and health care that have made this pandemic so dire. Our very conception of success — resting on veneration of inimitable heroic individuals — has worsened the country’s failures.

Americans have, historically, been eager to view themselves as a nation of individuals, rather than a collective. Our early philosophers — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau — preached a gospel of self-reliance. “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist,” Emerson wrote in 1841. Nineteenth-century visitors to the country, such as the French statesman Alexis de Tocqueville, were struck by both American optimism and American obsession with individual liberties. “Americans believe their freedom to be the best instrument and surest safeguard of their welfare,” Tocqueville wrote in 1835, “. . . to secure for themselves a government which will allow them to acquire the things they covet and which will not debar them from the peaceful enjoyment of those possessions.”

So, too, today. The rhetorical specter of “socialism” — with its insidious hints of “death panels” and shadow governments — consistently casts a pall over attempts to reform health care, expand the social safety net and enact legal protections for gig workers (now a third of the nation’s workforce) who are disproportionately at risk in a pandemic economy.

The victory of President Trump’s identitarian populism is the clearest example that voters reject the concept of a shared common life. And it was bankrolled by such hedge fund donors as PayPal founder Peter Thiel and Thomas Peterffy, the founder and chief executive of Interactive Brokers Group, who recently told the New Yorker that his support of Trump was because “the U.S. will get to socialism” through “increasing government regulation.”

Yet our current suspicion of the institutions that might bind us together is unprecedented, even by American standards. A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center revealed that almost three-quarters of Americans younger than 30 say that people generally “just look out for themselves.” Young adults are significantly more likely than older Americans to express mistrust in the military, religious leaders or police. The institutions and organizations that have shaped our sense of the common good, and our role within it, seem to have conclusively failed. The Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus threat could easily justify anyone’s lack of faith in the federal government.

At the same time, the Bill Gateses, Jack Dorseys and Peter Thiels of the world — seemingly “self-made” men, whose money and resources are increasingly forming the spine of the nation’s coronavirus response — represent a new and uniquely American vision of moral and political influence. The origin stories of these founder-heroes tend to emphasize their sui generis qualities that owe nothing to our shared institutions (governmental, ecclesiastical and educational). Many were college dropouts; Thiel, who holds two degrees from Stanford, created an eponymous fellowship that pays promising young entrepreneurs to leave college to code.

The techno-utopian libertarians of Silicon Valley and the hedge fund billionaires of Greenwich, Conn., share a conviction in the power of individual human freedom and the danger of any collective (or governmental) institution that might stymie unfettered human autonomy. Google’s Larry Page has gone on record envisioning a global free zone — one he likens to Nevada’s Burning Man festival — a “safe place” for technological experimentation not subject to any laws or safety regulations. Former Sears chief executive Eddie Lampert, now among the highest-paid hedge fund managers in the country, famously restructured the company in alignment with the economic principles of libertarian novelist Ayn Rand: The result was Sears filing for bankruptcy. The uber-rich, explicitly or implicitly, value the narrative of the uber-mensch. In this myth, wealth inequality is justified as the natural, material expression of the fundamental inequality of humanity.

These billionaires, whatever the source of their wealth, tend to frame their success as something they have earned on their own, whether through business savvy, technological creativity or old-fashioned American gumption. They (and we) decry American institutions — government, universities, health care, regulatory bodies — as fundamentally static and bureaucratic, holding back promising people from their destiny of self-making. As Thiel put it to economist Tyler Cowen in a 2015 podcast interview, denying that the United States is a democracy or a republic: “We are actually a state that’s dominated by these very unelected, technocratic agencies [that are] . . . deeply sclerotic, deeply nonfunctioning.” Contemporary billionaires see our civil institutions as mere bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, about 1 in 6 American children grows up in poverty. Our wealthiest school districts outspend their poorer counterparts by as much as 3 to 1. Adults living under the poverty line are five times as likely to say they are in “poor” or “fair” health as those making quadruple that much. Social services across the country are chronically underfunded. Our cultural obsession with freedom leaves behind our most vulnerable.

The coronavirus made clear that the rhetoric of human liberty is illusory, and with it the false narrative that individuals can make themselves in isolation. In a pandemic, no man is an island. Rather, we are, as Dostoevsky’s Father Zosima says in “The Brothers Karamazov,” all responsible to one another for everything. Our bodies, our labor, our social ties to one another are all interdependent. And we can address this pandemic only by recourse to a common life and common identity.

It is perhaps laudable that many of the victors of capitalism’s spoils want to contribute to the common project of fighting the pandemic. But we should not forget that so many of the factors that have rendered the coronavirus particularly deadly in the United States — income inequality, the lack of a social safety net, the precarious standing of newly-essential gig workers, the obsession with freedom from government tyranny and the lack of a coherent civic identity — are direct products of the way we valorize self-making.

The same faith in atomized consumerism that drives people to make billions of dollars in profit also positions them to donate some of that profit now. Our faith in capitalistic individualism has allowed corporations to both circumvent and co-opt the institutions of our shared civic life. It has weakened the foundations of our political coexistence. What capitalism’s victors are contributing to the coronavirus effort now should not be celebrated as altruistic charity but rather evidence of the broken system we have helped them build.

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