Sunday, August 14, 2011

But the Market Says

These are strange times for those who grew up ingesting the certainties of the 1980s and 1990s that it's impossible to argue with "the market".

First we see even the National and ACT parties agreeing to an enquiry into the price of milk. Then there's the furore over the price charged by Adidas for the All Blacks replica jersey.

I have no desire to buy an All Blacks jersey (despite enjoying rugby and supporting the All Blacks). However, I do think there's something wrong here. The dynamic is pretty close to what I think Naomi Klein was criticising in No Logo.

To begin with, we have a symbol that gains its value from popular culture, in this case New Zealanders' long history of dedication to playing and supporting rugby. The All Blacks are just the flagship for a culture which has its roots in provinces, clubs and schools and is based on the mostly unpaid commitment of ordinary people.

This cultural capital is then appropriated, commodified and privatized, in the form of the New Zealand Rugby Union giving exclusive rights to a multinational company to produce the "official" jersey. This is then sold back to the people who care about it. And precisely because its value is most salient here in New Zealand, the prices demanded are notably higher than overseas. New Zealand has been taken off allowable destinations of international websites that have the jersey much cheaper, seemingly at the request of Adidas.

Finally, it's worth noting that this whole process has its material basis elsewhere, since the jerseys are undoubtedly made in China and do not provide any local manufacturing employment.

This highly socially-constructed process is then presented as the market at work, a simple case of supply and demand, typified by the comment from Riche McCaw's [reported] girlfriend Nicola Grigg: "why the hell should Adidas change its prices". However, now we have Rebel Sports general manager talking about being "morally sensible" and Prime Minister John Key opining that "[Adidas] needs to determine whether their actions are in the best interest of the country". It's enough to make a time-traveller from the 1990s do a double take.

No comments: