Something has gone horribly wrong in Britain. If we are ever to confront the problems which have been exposed in the past week, it is essential to bear in mind that they do not only exist in inner-city housing estates.
The culture of greed and impunity we are witnessing on our TV screens stretches right up into corporate boardrooms and the Cabinet. It embraces the police and large parts of our media. It is not just its damaged youth, but Britain itself that needs a moral reformation.
Friday, 12 August 2011
Not surprisingly, many from the left are praising Peter Oborne’s latest grumble about the corruption of Britain’s business, political and social elite – a continuation of his theme of the last several years:
Oborne’s thesis is that we face a moral crisis rather than an economic or political crisis – this suits the left’s world view since it suggests the need for moral leadership. Indeed left wing leaders of the past have taken the same position as Oborne – that what we need is a remaking of man rather than a reinvention of the state. It is part of socialism’s essence that man is perfectible and that leaders are needed to direct that programme – to manage the moral reformation.
But all those people Oborne scourges – fiddling MPs, millionaires taking their money overseas to reduce their tax burden and feral youth smashing and looting in London – are they not acting as rational individuals? Or are they swept along into some immoral maelstrom created by our leaders’ failures?
Unlike Oborne – and unlike the left – I reject the idea of man’s perfectibility. Or indeed that we are in need of a “moral reformation” – it is an economic and political reformation we require, a change to the order of things. It is not moral decadence that links the powerful to the rioter but a belief that they are untouchable, that the normal rules of society do not apply.
So rather than rant about the moral failings of such powerful men, we should instead ask how they might be made touchable – subject to the mores of England rather than to the decadent glitter of elite society. And the answer to that – in as much as we can ever free the world from corruption – rests in removing power not in moral lectures.
In my days as a marketer I used to describe the point and purpose of marketing as being the securing of monopoly – markets in a state of equilibrium are not profit-making so we must create dysfunction so as to achieve our business aims. Much of marketing – the bit condemned by Naomi Klein – is directed towards securing a monopoly of attention in the individual consumer’s mind. This is what all that advertising, all those carefully crafted brands are for – not selling you stuff but making sure my stuff is what you think of first.
But think for a second or two – if our marketing investment is directed to the creation of a monopoly we control, is it not quicker and probably cheaper simply to bribe the state into giving us that monopoly? Rather than directing our limited marketing resource towards the tricky business of building brand equity, we can influence politicians, newspaper editors, bureaucrats and broadcasters so they see the evident rightness of fixing the market in our favour.
It is this marketing effort that Oborne is attacking – because governments have assumed the power to interfere in, limit and even control important markets, the people making money from those markets are both the creatures and the controllers of government. It is a symbiosis of corruption, a cartel against the interests of the ordinary man. So when those on the left rail about how the banks dragged down the economy, they are right. And when their right-wing counterpoints blame government, taxation and regulation they too are right since that regulation, taxation and governance has been conducted in co-operation with those very bankers.
And when we peek a little further into this, we find other groups engaged in the system protecting and promoting their especial monopolies – in healthcare, in education, in the production and distribution of food and in the making of guns, planes and bombs. We see the same monopoly and self-interest prevail in the law, in accountancy and even in sport – rather than fight fair in a free, competitive market, the businesses, trade unions and professional bodies prefer to get government to fix the rules.
The reformation is simple – we should neuter government, take away from it the power to fix markets in the interests of those with the best lobbyists and biggest bribes. It is the overweening state that created the sinful world Oborne describes not some wider moral malaise.
The solution is in our hands. We probably won’t take it.