Landscapes of Global Capital
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Executive manager: "Everybody likes trucks.
If you're going to do something with a career.
Why not do something you really like?"
Employee: "We have over 300,000 options on these trucks."
Executive" "Not many companies in the world build customized products on the assembly line."
Employees: "Ok." "Ok." "Oh its a dash-13, yeah"
Chorus: "We can be Heroes."
Older employee: "You can have 9 speeds, 10 speeds, 13 speeds, 15 speeds, dual fans, single fans, floor boards, all different kinds of heaters, custom upholstery."
2nd Employee: "No decals."
Executive: "I would tell our competitors today stay in your manual world; don't think about utilizing technology and we'll see you,
where you are in about five years."

Microsoft's 'Freightliner' story is about using software to increase productivity and competitiveness. In this regard, it is also about speed of production coupled with flexibility of production.

The ad opens with relentlessly upbeat music and a dynamic title card that spells out "T.G.I. Monday" while speeded up video cranks by. In fact, the whole ad runs at visual hyperspeed as the camera oscillates between screen shots of Microsoft software running on computers and the flashing, glancing hyperrealist editing of camera shots of big trucks on an assembly line.

The voice of the Freightliner manager declares, "Everybody likes trucks. Not many companies in the world build customized products on the assembly line." Interspersed with this on the soundtrack are comments of line workers who are using computers (presumably running Microsoft programs) to identify parts..."Oh, it's a dash 13, yeah..." along with voices vibrantly singing in the background, "We can be heroes." Microsoft tells a story of a well-integrated factory where workers are happy, productivity is higher than that of competitors, and they can combine the antithetical -- building customized products on an assembly line.

Ultimately the real history of capitalist production cycles returns to haunt this kind of storytelling. Computer software, as it turns out, may well boost productivity in the short term, but it is not enough to remedy economic downturns, or worse, the pitfalls of corporate mergers and acquisitions. Too much production and insufficient consumption is still a big problem for capitalist firms. By 2001 Freightliner, daunted by a growing inventory of unsold trucks, was losing money and terminating thousands of jobs in its manufacturing operations. Finally in May 2001, James Hebe, resigned as the CEO of Freightliner. So much for the boast about coming back in five years to see how far ahead they are of the competition. (See Joseph B. White, "Head of Truck Maker Freightliner is Leaving Post," Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2001, A4). In the end the same old rules of capitalism still prevail. Too much productivity can yield overproduction -- supply outstripping demand, imperiling firms like Freightliner.

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© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey