Monday, October 25, 2004

Give me back the Bloody Spoon

Be warned, very muddled and somewhat naive/in process thoughts follow.

Growing up I was always a bit of a conservative optimist. I had faith in the police, I had faith that my government was about looking after my interests, although not always at the expense of others, the glass ceiling didn't really exist, and that change was not necessarily a good thing. Maybe this is because I am white, male and middle class. And in theory, there was no limit to what I could achieve. Don't get me wrong, I regard being white, male and middle class as something positive and I am not ashamed of my roots. I am proud of who I am and where I come from, but I am becoming aware of how much my origins have coloured my view of my world. Turning thirty is a bit late to do this, but better late than never...

To some extent, I have to believe that some of this is still true. I believe that human nature is enduring and that most people will, in times of trial, act for the best of all of us. I have to believe this as to believe otherwise it gets a little too scary.

Somewhere in the late nineties I lost much of the conservative streak. I think a lot of it was due to being at Cityside Baptist Church with such friends as Murray Sheard, Simon Manning, Malcolm McKinley, Sarah and Craig O'Brien amongst others. I'm not sure where the rest of it went.

Living in Britain, there is no doubt in my mind which way the majority of us would vote if we could vote in Tuesdays election. We'd be voting for John Kerry and there's no doubt that George Bush is the devil incarnate. I watched a television program tonight that was presented by John Snow, a senior journalist at Channel 4 in the UK. The gist of the program was that it's money that buys the White House, rather than manifesto, personality, integrity... There's an element of 'No shit, Sherlock' in that thesis. Sure, the other things help, but if you can get a lot of money, you can make yourself look better, or, more importantly, make your opponent look bad. Watching the program prompted a few responses from me. There was a certain amount of dismay, and 'I knew it!', but at the minute, the two most enduring responses are as follows:

Firstly, it's a free market, so if I have money, there's no reason that I can't get on in this action. Which in return prompted the response of 'just how free is it'. Sure, I believe that if you have the drive, the creativity, the ingenuity etc, you can make it rich. But I think at the moment there are two fundamental flaws in that idea. The first flaw is that there is the base assumption that we all sunscribe to the doctrine ofprosperity, or the great american dream. The second flaw is that I don't believe that the market is entirely free. I am beginning to think that those with the most money are trying to control the market and limit entry into it. Witness Microsoft and it's approach to Netscape etc. However, I am willing to counter this my using the same industry to demonstrate it's not entirely closed. The amazing growth in dot coms etc made a lot of new rich people (as well as a lot of very rich and then very poor people). So the market can be entered into by 'common people'. I'm not an economist, and I wonder if it hasn't always been like this, from the building of the British rail network and East India Company to the telecommunication industry today. Ian, if you're out there, you got a Masters in Finance, help me out here!

Secondly, I started to wonder how exposed I am to liberal media and reporting in the UK. I am a Gaurdian (the spelling is an in joke) reader, and a BBC watcher. The BBC getting the nickname of Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation during the second Gulf War because they were percieved as being anti-american, and I will avoid the Telegraph and Mail at all costs. And then we start getting into the whole problem of what is truth, and where is the spoon and then I feel the need for a lie down. Post modernism be damned, all I want is to get an objective viewpoint and that seems impossible!

To borrow a song title from eighties christian songwriter and satirist, Steve Taylor, it's harder to be liberal than not to.

And then it turns out that no senator in history has raised as much money for his election campaigns as John Kerry.


Naomi said...

wah! welcome back to blogdom Rich, just been catching up on your posts:)

firstly i don't understand the spoon reference at all... you are clearly too cool for school! (and I'm definitely not)

secondly about the money and the US president... ever since i stopped to think how much money it seems to take to get you to the White House (so much for the American Dream... oh no sorry that is the American Dream, i'm getting confused with the whole idea that everyone rich or poor has the potential to contribute something, perhaps that's more of a Socialist Dream;) I've always assumed that ammassing much money must mean that you and/or your cronies have not always been completely honest... harsh, but I've yet to see any evidence to prove me wrong...

richard said...

the spoon is a matrix reference

I'm a little bit less cynical. I'm sure the money comes from honest sources, it's just what the donors expect to happen if the receiver gets elected. And it scares me that people hedge by donating to both parties, and thus trying to ensure that they will get what they want. I'd be more ok, although still uncomfortable, if this money went into the public domain, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so the free market is a myth, and I've wasted 8 years of university study and fours years of long hours in an airconditioned office. Still the company credit card, wining and dining clients and free rugby tickets can't have been all bad....

But seriously, the free market is a massive simplification. There is no such thing. But its a somewhat useful model.

New Institutional Economics 101.

If a society can be said to have certain world view, then this world view creates/influences constitutions/laws/courts/police which in turn create/influence the form of government departments/corporations/markets. Whatever the market, there are always rules and regulations, so in that sense there are no free markets. But some are more free than others.

A certain transaction will occur in a market or in a government department or in a corporation depending on the nature of that transaction and the nature of the underlying institutions (government departments, corporations, markets) Ever wonder why when it comes to cars, everyone doesn't buy the raw materials, make the parts, assemble them and then get the car approved by the government? Because its much more efficient to buy one from a corporation. All these transactions are organised within the corporation, rather than in individual markets.

So we'd expect the most efficient producer of the best quality item to dominate? No way! Evidence McDonalds. With marketing, we can change people's perceptions. Most people can't tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke in a blind test, but tell them which one is Coke, and they'll think it tastes better.

So this may not come as a big surprise, but we are not as free as we think we are when it comes to purchasing decisions. We're restrained by the law, the rules of government departments and corporations and we're influenced by advertising.

A CEO of a big corporation in the US was quoted as saying the products of his company were crap. The share price dived, and so did the company's sales in the following months. He had a major influence on the consumers of his products!!! Needless to say the guy was fired.

Big companies won't be too upset if they lose one customer, but if enough people complain or switch products, they will react.

So can anyone enter any market and make it rich? It depends. Some markets are heavily regulated. As a New Zealander I can't just start up my own airline and fly to the US, pick up passengers and fly them elsewhere.

Some markets require a lot of investment capital (anyone got a spare couple of million for a new 747?) Some have large competitors with huge marketing budgets. If you're Microsoft, you stretch the law to breaking point to protect your market position.

The development of intellectual property laws in the West has made it much easier to make large sums of money overnight. You can protect your idea, and sell it off / license it to large corporations. All you need is a good idea!

Ian. (You should never ask me questions when I'm procrastinating from exam study, the answer is always gonna be lengthy)