Fourth item on the Today programme news on Radio 4 this morning:
“The Prudential has announced pre-tax profits of £593 million….”
On any given day there will be such media announcement of massive profits from one of ‘our’ big firms – a big slap on the back to the Board who steered ‘us’ there, the markets which bore the succulent fruits that have been reaped, and ‘us’, the nation, for giving birth to such a splendid company which is so good at being profitable.
Every time I hear these daily announcements I am reminded of nothing more than the equivalent daily announcements in the Soviet Union: of record tractor production in Minsk, or wheat harvests in Ukraine, or standing ovations for Chernenko. There seems to be no difference between the style, or even the substance, of the announcements of Stalinism’s ‘achievements’ or capitalism’s. The uncritical, laudatory, genuflecting worship of the prevailing ideology and its delivery of manna from heaven for the people, looks, smells and sounds the same. But we seem to listen uncritically.
The people, of course, will benefit not a jot from the ‘pre-tax’ profits (as if the firm is likely to pay any tax), any more than Soviet citizens benefited from the bountiful supply of tractors that were periodically announced. But, for that vital moment as we chew on our muesli and sip on our latté, we are all as one – basking in the glorious results of this great civilization we have created.
Every now and then, of course, we must create a corporate villain. Just as Stalinism needed its purges, disappearances, and denunciations, so capitalism needs its BP, its Lehman Brothers, or its Nick Leeson. These serve as excellent stooges, and make the announcements of capitalism’s achievements so much more credible, lending contrast – shade behind the light – to the hagiographical narrative the ruling ideology lays out for us.
But most of the time the song remains the same: look, hark, feel the achievements of this glorious ideology, which has overcome all rivals to deliver milk and honey to all. Bestow medals on those heroic Directors of Prudential for their stewardship of this great organ of capitalist value creation. Worship at the feet of capital, the long legs and even longer torso above them leading, inexorably, towards the Emerald City.
Let’s cut straight to the Emerald City, smash it up, and start again. This whole thing stinks. And no media-orchestrated love-in for the shock-troops of capitalism in the City of London can freshen the air from the smell. There’s got to be something better on offer. Let’s start making it.
So tomorrow morning, when you’re listening to the news, and hear the magnificent financial results laid out before your very ears, substitute regions of the Soviet Union for ‘the City’, crops or machinery for ‘profits’, and Russian names for those of the named ‘Directors’. Then assess how credible it all sounds.