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Create or Die: The World of Don Draper by Jeffrey A. Tucker

I was in an elevator and heard a conversation between a young worker in information technology and an old timer involved in heavy industry. They were talking professions. The young man told the old man that he was in digital marketing. You could feel the sense of incredulity in the small space, and (though he didn’t say it) I just knew what the old man was thinking: “Another fake job in the unsustainable Facebook economy.”

So it has always been. The belief that unless you are making stuff you are not really producing has been with us since the ancient world. Even Aristotle found retailing to be disgusting, and money lending even more so. After all, these people are not actually contributing to the physical store of wealth in society, so in what sense are they creating value? We read similar opinions every day.

Such views completely misconstrue the nature of wealth and the job of enterprise. “The characteristic feature of capitalism that distinguishes it from pre-capitalist methods of production,” writes Ludwig von Mises, “was its new principle of marketing.”

The consumers rule. The makers and sellers of products seek their approval. What influences the decision to buy are the ideas people hold. It thereby becomes incumbent on the sellers to explain, persuade, convince, and inspire. They can only do this with good ideas.

To contemplate the value of an idea, the potentially immense worth of a single product of the human mind, dreamed up from non-existence to the stage of realization, communicated in a way that causes people to change their minds even in the absence of any physical change to the world, is to come to terms with a realm in which matter and spirit meet.

Exploring this realm is where the television series Mad Men (2007-2015) truly excels. It is set in the early 1960s, a time when the modern advertising industry began to take on critical economic importance due to innovations in communications technology. This industry sought to move already-produced goods (and services) from warehouse shelves to become part of people’s lives.

The entire goal of the firm is to bring consumers to a position decision to buy. The right messaging, well placed, can make the difference between a multi-million dollar success and a complete flop. It’s all about entering and influencing the headspace of the consumers — the ultimate decision makers in a capitalist economy.

Time and again, an outsider asks what it is that these advertising executives actually make. They try to explain. They fail. It seems too elusive, or perhaps too fake.

Like any good drama, Mad Men avoids didacticism concerning its point of view. There is plenty of good and evil to go around in the firm and the industry.

But over time, the viewer begins to cheer on the success of these ad men (and women), particularly Don Draper, the series’ main protagonist. You can’t help but sympathize with him on as he struggles to stay in a game in which the rules are always changing and the value systems of the mass of consumers are in constant flux.

For many people, Mad Men has been the first behind-the-scenes exposure to the world of advertising and the capitalistic machinery that manages it. The series is revealing in a historical sense, taking us through the systematic social, political, and economic upheaval of the 1960s. The characters are so well drawn that we actually come to believe we can psychologically deconstruct them one by one.

So let me try to deconstruct Don Draper, at least in a professional sense. He has one skill: creativity. And that creative skill has a test: profitability. In this sense, his creativity is different from a regular artist such as a painter or poet or musician. His one single goal is to generate ideas that sell product. There is a metric to reveal success or failure: It is the balance sheet. If the balance sheet responds, he has succeeded. If it does not, he has failed, and there are dozens of others ready to take his place to try their hands at idea creation.

Where do these marketing ideas come from? They are anything but automatic. If the answer to the question of marketing were obvious, his skills wouldn’t be needed. His job is to discover a message that rearranges the preference scales of possible consumers, which requires discerning the way that a mere physical product can most deeply meet human needs.

When he gets a new client, he extracts the most necessary known data: What is the product and what does it do? To whom is it most likely to be useful? Why would anyone want to obtain it through market exchange, giving up their property for someone else’s?

Once he has processed all known data, he turns his attention to what is unknown. How does this directly benefit people in their daily lives? And how can this product provide an even deeper benefit by causing life to better than it has been thus far?

The people who hire him do not know the answer. Draper does not know the answer either. He has to generate that answer from within his creative capacity. He will be tested on whether he gets it right, which is why he needs time to reflect. The answer for one product is not the same as another. Each case is unique. As he finds the best possible strategy, he also knows that there is no faking it: He either gets it right or he gets it wrong.

Every day, he faces this struggle to discover, see, codify, and pitch — to sell his idea to sell a product. He goes to bed each night with a profound sense of uncertainty. The answer is elusive. He looks through the glass darkly. Beyond the horizon of the present is the abyss of the future.

To cross it, he has to put himself in the shoes of countless people who know nothing about the product, peer into their hearts and souls, discern the inner workings of their minds, connect the results with a product, map out a memorable message, strategize on the right paths for conveying that message, and explain it all in a way that persuades those who have hired him that he is right and becoming willing to take the risk.

When you consider the whole of the responsibility here, it is awesome. Most people can’t live in this constant state of not knowing today what is essential to know tomorrow. But Draper has learned to have confidence that his knowledge will be greater tomorrow than it is today. He has learned to put his faith and trust in an emergent process that operates within his mind.

Notice that there are two levels of challenge here, both within and without.

Externally, he must put himself in the mindset of a random and unknown consumer, potentially millions of them. He must be outward looking, one might even say public spirited. He has to discern the workings of the human spirit.

Internally, the challenge is just as great. He has this gray matter that has to generate something fresh, wonderful, and effective. He has to believe that the answer is in there somewhere; it just needs the right configuration of outside stimuli and careful reflection to shake it loose.

He must manage his life to maximize the chances that these external and internal forces will come together to reveal the answer he is seeking. He lives an edgy and sometimes horrible life. Why does he seem to disappoint and betray so many people? Why does he so often disappoint us with his antics, his insensitivities, his erratic wanderings? How can he appear to have such intense convictions in one setting and then blow them up again in a different setting later in the same day?

In the course of his life, Draper is cultivating his capacity for thinking and creating in the best way he knows how. The ideas have to emerge: where they come from and how they rise from the recesses of his brain is not completely known to him.

But this much he knows: living a static and ritualized existence does not do it. He must at all times be ready to destroy a previous mode of thought, no matter what the costs that went into making it, and replace it with something completely new. In order to disrupt his own staid patterns of thought and open new ways of thinking, he seeks out change with new stimuli, risk, and even danger.

It’s the way the truly creative mind works — not through repeating what is known but by progressively discovering what has been unknown. In this task, past data is useful and interesting but also potentially distracting and even completely irrelevant in a world of ceaseless change. A plan based on known metrics alone is a recipe for total failure. The real source of value comes from understanding, anticipating, and acting on what is next. Even more value comes from actually creating what is next.

This method is not only Don’s own. It is also the source of progress in our world. Our lives are strictly divided into three experience of time: the unchangeable data of the past, the tactile experiences of the present, and the darkened and mapless path of the future. The forward motion of time, from past to present to future, never stops. The job of the advertiser — or the creative artist or the entrepreneur or the manager of any firm — is to find the light switches that illuminate the best route to leave the unchangeable past, improve the unsatisfactory present, and pave the way to a more wonderful world of tomorrow.

Don Draper is seeking those switches. When he finds one, there is a moment of rejoicing but then the reality dawns. He must find another. Then another. He must create or die. And so it must be for as long as he pursues his career.

Draper is a very flawed figure. So are we all. So will always be the ideas and structures and institutions created by mortal beings. His drive to succeed seems to come at the expense of his own soul. His obsession with knowing the minds of others displaces the need to be honest with himself.

All of this is true, and well portrayed. But consider what is being criticized here. The problem with Draper, we are being told, is that he gives of himself too much. And perhaps he does. It’s a struggle everyone faces, no matter the institutional and professional setting.

Still, even given his flaws, we should not fail to observe the piety at work here. It is because of the daring and courageous will to think something new, to seek out the workings of the public mind, to live day-to-day with radical uncertainty, to dive into the crucible of profit-and-loss that we move ever further from the state of nature toward the promise and possibility of a flourishing society of prosperity and peace.

The advertisers and marketers are seeking to have a role in creating that future. Think of how you spend your time. Think of how you spend your money. There are infinite choices before us, but at any one moment, you can only do one thing at a time.

Very often, as you reflect on your life and what you do, you will find that the goods and services that capture your attention, have behind them a massive apparatus of genius, risk, and creativity, all constructed to convey an idea.

That is called marketing. It is devised by human beings, portrayed so beautifully, flaws and all, on Mad Men.

In a market economy, geniuses are gathered to care about the life and decisions of the common person. They regard us as valuable. This is a wonderful thing. We should be grateful for it. It all happens because of an idea — an idea that begins in one mind that can eventually teach the world to sing.

Is there value in that? Absolutely — even if it can’t be explained in an elevator pitch.


Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in Anything Peaceful.

My 2015 Commencement Address

All manner of people are giving commencement speeches to students graduating from colleges and universities these days. It is doubtful that any will be remembered because the prospects of students depend in large part on the economy into which they are entering, the majors they pursued, their individual ambitions, and capacity for hard work. Then, too, there’s dumb luck which often plays a role.

For those graduating this year, my profound sympathy because the economy could not be much worse short of being declared an official Depression. Out of a total of 330 million Americans, there are currently 93,194,000 Americans who are not in the workforce because they can’t find a job or have given up looking. Even in the field of manufacturing—not something you studied for—the number of jobs have declined by 7,231,000, some 37% since manufacturing peaked in the U.S. in 1979.

U.S. economic growth rate has slowed to 0.2%. In short, it is virtually non-existent. So, with your diploma in hand, unless you majored in the sciences, math or engineering, you are not likely to join the workforce any time soon. Those of you who majored in social work, theatre arts, elementary education, and something called parks and recreation, are going to be at the bottom of the salary scale for the rest of your life.

Of the previous graduates from 2008 to the present who voted for Barack Obama, just 14% have real jobs. You have had the vast misfortune of being born just in time to live through the worst presidency in the history of the nation. If, in fact, you even know the history of the nation.

You are at a further disadvantage because the curriculums of the government schools you attended have been so distorted that you have been led to believe that the Founding Fathers were all slave-owning, white elitists when in fact, many opposed slavery, the labor source of their era, and would have abolished it. However they knew they could not get the Constitution ratified by the southern states if they did. It’s called compromising for a greater goal, the finest and currently the oldest functioning Constitution on Earth.

Depending on your race and sex, you have already been taught to blame anything that goes wrong in your life on whether you are white, black or Hispanic, male or female. If you want to know what’s wrong, look in the mirror and ask yourself what you are doing wrong or not doing right—dressing, manners, behavior, addictions, et cetera.

If you have been raised to believe in God and have spiritual values, you are likely to be mocked, though not necessarily to your face. While still the majority faith in America, Christianity is under attack from many directions, not the least of whom are homosexuals that constitute less than 2% of the population. Their attack on traditional (and biological) male-female marriage that has been part of every civilization going back five thousand years and more will degrade society in many ways.

For many of you, graduation means years of paying off huge loans for the privilege of picking up a degree that, as noted—short of science, math and engineering—will not yield a lot of income. This will impact your lifestyle including possibly having to move back in with your parents. It may mean putting off marriage and a family of your own for a while and your loans will affect being able to secure a mortgage on a home, but everyone is having problems doing that these days.

So, if all this looks and sound bleak, it is because it is. A real commencement speech should tell you the truth but most of them do not. They are generally filled with inspiring talk about the future.

The future you are looking at along with everyone else is fraught with danger. That, however, can be said of every “future” that every American has faced since the nation was established. It took a shooting war with Great Britain just to have a nation and Americans have been engaged in wars large and small ever since.

The threat of Communism faced Americans after World War Two and generations previous to yours waited out and opposed the Soviet Union for nearly fifty years before it collapsed. Communism is still around however in China, nearby Cuba, Venezuela and other nations who suppress their people in the name of the utopian society they claim to have.

The more recent threat is the rise of Islamism, radical Islam as practiced and supported by a significant percentage of the world’s one billion-plus Muslims. It is a cult about Mohammed based on the total domination of the world. Divided between two sects, Sunnis and Shiites, when they are not killing each other, they are killing “infidels”, anyone who is not a Muslim.

It will fall to you and your fellow graduates to fix the nation’s problems and right now its biggest one is that the federal government is too large and we are collectively facing an $18 trillion debt that must be resolved because just paying interest on it makes doing anything else difficult at best.

All of the states are in debt as well as they struggle to pay the health benefits and pensions of civil service workers, active and retired. That often doesn’t leave much money for fixing potholes and other infrastructure needs.

Whatever problems you will encounter, keep in mind previous generations often encountered much worse, such as those in the 1930s during the Great Depression and in the 1940s who fought World War II, and those from the 1950s and 1970s who were called on to fight the Korean War and the war in Vietnam; more recently those who fought the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Respect their sacrifices and their courage.

If you want to see the government grow even larger along with the debt, vote for Hillary Clinton. She’s still mentally and ideologically stuck in the 1990s, plus she has engaged in behavior that would get anyone else put in jail. You have a large choice among Republican candidates and eventually it will narrow to someone capable of tackling the future.

The best I can do is to wish you good luck. You’re going to need it.

© Alan Caruba, 2015

Libertarian Folly: Why Everybody is a Social-issues Voter

There is this notion, one we hear more and more, that the Republican Party has to shed the social issues to seize the future. “Social issues are not the business of government!” says thoroughly modern millennial. It’s a seductive cry, one repeated this past Tuesday in an article about how some young libertarians dubbed the “Liberty Kids” are taking over the moribund Los Angeles GOP. Oh, wouldn’t the political landscape be simple if we could just boil things down to fiscal responsibility? But life is seldom simple.

If you would claim to be purely fiscal, or assert that “social issues” should never be government’s domain, I’d ask a simple question: Would you have no problem with a movement to legalize pedophilia?

Some responses here won’t go beyond eye-rolling and scoffing. Others will verbalize their incredulity and say that such a movement would never be taken seriously. This is not an answer but a dodge. First, the way to determine if one’s principles are sound is by seeing if they can be consistently applied. For instance, if someone claims he never judges others, it’s legitimate to ask whether he remains uncritical even of Nazis and KKK members; that puts the lie to his self-image. And any thinking person lives an examined life and tries to hone his principles.

Second, there is no never-land in reality. People in the ’50s would have said that homosexuality will “never” be accepted in the U.S. And Bill O’Reilly said as recently as 15 or 16 years ago that faux marriage (I don’t use the term “gay marriage”) would “never” be accepted in America. Sometimes “never” lasts only a decade or two.

Third, my question is no longer just theoretical. As I predicted years ago and wrote about here, there now is a movement afoot — one that has received “unbiased” mainstream-media news coverage — to legitimize pedophilia. Moreover, it has co-opted the language of the homosexual lobby, with doctors suggesting that pedophiles are “born that way” and have a “deep-rooted predisposition that does not change.”  A film reviewer characterizing pedophilia as “the love that dare not speak its name” and activists saying that lust for children is “normative” and those acting on it are unjustly “demonized.” Why, one Los Angeles Times article quoted a featured pedophile as saying, “These people felt they could snuff out the desire, or shame me into denying it existed. But it’s as intrinsic as the next person’s heterosexuality.”

My, where have we heard that before?

So, modern Millie, as we venture further down the rabbit hole, know that one day you may be among “these people,” these intolerant folks who just can’t understand why “social issues” should be kept out of politics and government out of the bedroom.

I should also point out that a movement advancing bestiality has also reared its head, using much of the same language as the homosexual and pedophiliac lobbies.

Of course, I’m sure that many libertarians have no problem with legalized bestiality; hey, my goat, my choice, right? And there may even be a rare few who would shrug off pedophilia, saying that, well, if a child agrees, who am I to get in the way of a consensual relationship? But these issues, as revolting and emotionally charged as they are, are just examples. There are a multitude of others, and this becomes clear if we delve a bit more deeply.

After all, what are “social issues”? What are we actually talking about? We’re speaking of moral issues, which, again, thoroughly modern millie would say should be kept out of politics. But this is impossible. For the truth is that every just law is an imposition of morality or a corollary thereof — every one.

Eyes may be rolling again, but let’s analyze it logically. By definition a law is a removal of a freedom, stating that there is something we must or must not do. Now, stripping freedom away is no small matter. Why would we do it? Unless we’re sociopathic, like Aleister Crowley believe “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” and are willing to impose our will simply because it feels right, there could be only one reason: we see the need to enforce an element of a conception of right and wrong. We prohibit an act because we believe it’s wrong or mandate something because we believe it’s a moral imperative. This is indisputable. After all, would you forcibly prevent someone from doing something that wasn’t wrong? Would you force someone to do something that wasn’t a moral imperative? That would be truly outrageous — genuine tyranny.

There are laws where this is obvious and unquestioned, such as the prohibition against murder. But the same holds true even when the connection to morality isn’t so obvious, such as with speed laws: they’re justified by the idea that it is wrong to endanger others.

Then there is legislation such as ObamaCare. The wind beneath its wings was the idea that it was wrong to leave people without medical care; this case was consistently made, and, were it not for this belief, the bill could never have gotten off the ground. Or consider the contraception mandate and the supposed “war on women”: the issue would have been moot if we believed there was nothing wrong with waging a war on women.

Some will now protest, saying that there is nothing moral about ObamaCare and the contraception mandate. I agree, but this just proves my point. Note that my initial assertion was not that every law is the imposition of morality — it was that every just law is so. Some legislation is based on a mistaken conception of right and wrong, in which case it is merely the imposition of values, which are not good by definition (Mother Teresa had values, but so did Hitler). It is only when the law has a basis in morality, in Moral Truth, which is objective, that it can be just. Hence the inextricable link between law and morality. For a law that isn’t the imposition of morality is one of two other things: the legislation of nonsense or, worse still, the imposition of immorality.

So this is the fatal flaw behind the attack on social conservatives. It would be one thing if the only case made were that their conception of morality was flawed; instead, as with those who sloppily bemoan all “judgment,” they’re attacked with a flawed argument, the notion that their voices should be ignored because they would “impose morality.” But what we call “social conservatives” aren’t distinguished by concern for social issues; the only difference between them and you, modern Millie, is that they care about the social issues that society, often tendentiously, currently defines as social issues and which we happen to be fighting about at the moment. This is seldom realized because most people are creatures of the moment.

But rest assured that, one day, the moment and “never” will meet. And then you very well may look in the mirror and recognize that most unfashionable of things: a social-issues voter.

Contact Selwyn Duke, follow him on Twitter or log on to SelwynDuke.com

Florida Senator Marco Rubio gives defining pro-family, pro-straight and pro-American speech

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has taken on social issues in a major speech given at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Senator Rubio is taking the high ground on issues that are important to the majority of Americans.

In “Strong Values for a Strong America” Rubio states, “A strong America is not possible without strong Americans – a people formed by the values necessary for success, the values of education and hard work, strong marriages and empowered parents. These are values that made us the greatest nation ever, and these are the values that will lead us to a future even better than our past.”

Rubio notes, “No one is born with the values crucial to the success sequence. They have to be taught to us and they have to be reinforced. Strong families are the primary and most effective teachers of these values. As the social philosopher Michael Novak once said, the family is the original and best department of health, education and welfare. It is crucial in developing the character of the young. And those efforts can be reinforced in our schools, religious institutions, civic groups and our society.”

Rubio comes out strong as the pro-family, pro-straight and pro-American candidate for President in 2016. Immediately after his speech Rubio was attacked for the following statement:

Now, I know that given the current cultural debates in our country, many expect that a speech on values would necessarily touch upon issues like same sex marriage and abortion. These are important issues and they relate to deeply held beliefs and deeply divisive ideas.

We should acknowledge that our history is marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians. There was once a time when the federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required private contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants. And many cities carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay Americans.

Fortunately, we have come a long way since then. But many committed gay and lesbian couples feel humiliated by the law’s failure to recognize their relationship as a marriage. And supporters of same sex marriage argue that laws banning same sex marriage are discrimination.

I respect their arguments. And I would concede that they pose a legitimate question for lawmakers and for society.

But there is another side of debate. Thousands of years of human history have shown that the ideal setting for children to grow up is with a mother and a father committed to one another, living together, and sharing the responsibility of raising their children. And since traditional marriage has such an extraordinary record of success at raising children into strong and successful adults, states in our country have long elevated this institution and set it apart in our laws.

That is the definition of marriage that I personally support – not because I seek to discriminate against people who love someone of the same sex, but because I believe that the union of one man and one woman is a special relationship that has proven to be of great benefit to our society, our nation and our people, and therefore deserves to be elevated in our laws.

Watch the YouTube video of Rubio’s speech:

Read the full text of Rubio’s speech here.

In Florida 1 million Christians either did not register or did not vote in the 2010 general election. Obama won Florida by less than 80,000 votes. Perhaps Rubio is on to something?

When tolerance becomes a one-way street it leads to at best religious intolerance and at its worst social suicide. Rubio has taken the moral high ground.

RELATED ARTICLE: ‘Straight White Guy’ Festival Outrages Same-Sex Marriage Supporters

EDITORS NOTE: The featured photo is courtesy of  M.Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO.