Follow me on Twitter

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Southpaw Soundbite Review


There’s a basic misunderstanding at the root of this PR Week editorial about ethics in the communications industry.
Editor-in-Chief, Danny Rogers, cites the 2012 Sunday TimesRich List as evidence of the failure of what he terms free market trickle down economics. It followed the surprise expressed by some commentators that the already wealthy became even wealthier in 2012.
This is worrying, opined Danny, because: 
‘if wealth is not ‘trickling down’… then the whole value of business to our society comes under scrutiny.’
But why under 'trickle down' would one expect the wealth of the richest to leak to the poorest?
‘Trickle down’ as soundbite is a spin doctor’s dream. A two word phrase that neatly packages up what we think we know about the prevailing social relations of the last 40 years or so.
A small technical feature of soundbites (second to its overall ideological role), is its tendency to strip away theoretical meaning. I’m no expert, but I think it fairly certain that trickle down is no exception from this rule.
But in principle it is possible for anyone to invest even a modicum of attention to what ‘wealth’ might mean (or what it certainly does not mean) before  worrying that the ‘value’ of business to society is eroded if it appears the reality of mega wealth is in contradiction to economic propaganda.
I doubt there’s any contradiction in theory or practice between increasing wealth and trickle down economics. Danny is confusing trickle down with progressive redistribution, which has a completely different dynamic. True, it's the redistributive dynamic that proponents of 'trickle down' like to allude to, hence its use as a soundbite, but it's an illusion. The following piece by Ed Shultz provides a great performative reposte to such thinking. 

'Trickle down' might refer, not to wealth, but to the wider dissemination of goods and services to greater numbers of people (mobile phones among the Masai for example) over time. It does not necessarily imply that the depositories of wealth accumulated by the rich will inevitably leak down to those who are less well off. As a soundbite, it's nice to imagine that such a trickle down does occur though.

Now for the depressing bit:
‘What has this got to do with PR?’ asks Danny, ‘Well, corporate comms strategy is often predicated on shareholder value. But if this value – quite apart from social justice – is failing to be delivered, then comms professionals must look at where else their organisation is creating value.
‘This creates an impetus for ‘values-based’ businesses; organisations that can genuinely contribute to the broader society.’
As an example of alienation, this passage is outstanding. There’s an obvious conflation of value with wealth and a vacuous allusion to ethical value (a capitalist content to substitute ethical value for shareholder wealth would not be a capitalist for long). I suppose some capitalists have succeeded in mobilizing shared ethical conceptions to help prop up their profits and I suppose this is the point Danny is making.
But what depresses me about this statement is the assumption that value is only created by business. The passage demonstrates what happens when one is alienated from the product of labour. Under such conditions ‘value’ becomes solely about profit or shareholder value. We, the alienated, have no idea what lies beneath this ‘value’, and we end up picking through the entrails of lost profitability like zombies looking for a substitute value to feast upon, never contemplating what exists prior to the extraction of surplus value: the value of human labour itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment