The weasel words

The words




Tipping point / watershed moment

Banks are “examining their options

Business Climate


Open for Business

Global Race / #globalrace

UK Plc, USA Inc.

Wealth Creators, Job Creators

Level Playing Field

The Competitiveness Agenda is backed by a vocabulary of nice-sounding words and phrases that are used for the purposes of lobbying and obfuscation — some more subtle than others.

Once you start looking out for the c-words ‘competitive,’ ‘compete,’ ‘competition,’ and related words, you will find them everywhere, in the context of states and whole countries (and even whole regional blocks, like Europe).

“Well, we must do this, in order to stay ‘competitive,’ ” a politician says.

The banks say they are ‘examining their options’ in light of new taxes or regulatory rules, and issue bloodcurdling threats that the financial centre is at a ‘tipping point’ where a wholesale collapse is imminent.

And in the face of these threats people sigh, hang their heads, and move on. They feel powerless.

Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism calls this concern with so-called competitiveness “a not very good yet widely accepted excuse for crushing labour.” And we’d tend to agree.
Today’s blogger puts ‘competitiveness’ into a news search engine, and finds a story just two hours old, entitled Business tax cuts: A plan for competitiveness. It sounds great, doesn’t it? We’ll unpack the nonsense (and the blatant untruths) in that short op-ed, in a later post. But the point here is to stress just how everywhere-ish the c-words are.

And there are a few other code words out there in this arena. One is mentioned today in The Guardian by the Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang, in a far more sensible article entitled Ignore the ‘pro-business’ rhetoric: a pro-rich government is anti-business.

It’s an excellent article, well worth reading, and it is right on-topic for us, even though he doesn’t mention any of the c-words. It begins:

“Despite the best efforts of some of its members to discredit it with market rigging, tax avoidance, and unjustified bonuses, the business community is still held in awe in Britain. Any suggestion of higher taxes for top earners or tougher regulations on the abuse of market power is howled down as dangerously anti-business. Politicians who are serious about the nation’s prosperity and its citizens’ welfare, it is accepted, need to be “pro-business”.

He could have said “uncompetitive” and ‘competitive’ instead of ‘anti-business’ and ‘pro-business.’ We’re talking about essentially the same thing here.

The basic point he’s making is that many people have come to think that showering rich people with subsidies, tax cuts, lax regulations, or whatever, is good for business – and if it’s good for business, then it must be good for the country – duh! But of course this logic is wrong. Why is showering the rich with goodies and trinkets (Britain’s “non-dom” rule is one particularly egregious case in point) any better than providing benefits to the poor and middle classes?

There is no obvious reason why this should be, especially in this gilded age of growth-destroying inequality. The opposite, as Ha-Joon explains, is likely to be the case.

There are quite a few of these words. In the United States, the words “business climate” are often a codeword used to intimidate people into accepting unnecessary changes. A really good study here, skewering a lot of this nonsense, was published in May 2013 by Good Jobs First, authored by Peter Fisher, a U.S. public finance expert.

Entitled Grading Places: What Do the Business Climate Rankings Really Tell Us? it skewers the rash of ‘sponsored studies’ that have come out, purporting to show that it’s a good idea to shower businesses with all kinds of subsidies. As it notes:

“A recurring proof of the flawed methodologies is their lack of predictive value. . .

As business climatology’s sponsorship has diversified, so have its practitioners. However, its core methodological tricks have remained the same: Choose public policies that are of high concern to the corporate and/or high-wealth sponsors (e.g., unemployment insurance rates then or the estate tax today). Use self-interested respondents and/or anecdotes to ascribe otherwise unverifiable or even improbable weights to the variables. Choose variables that reduce inequality (e.g., state minimum wages) and down-rate them, in the name of jobs, of course. Or choose variables that are self-fulfilling because they are outcomes, not causes (e.g., using high-speed broadband access as a predictor rather than an indicator of growth). Or cherry-pick small, incomplete sample sets to suggest positive or negative correlations.”

Another dog-whistle word is ‘global race.’ UK Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron even has a fatuous Twitter hashtag #globalrace. There is a fascinating short article looking at the history of this term, and its obvious appeal to politicians, here. As it notes:

“Last September, the phrase “global race”, used in reference to Britain, appeared twice in British national newspapers. In October, 17 times; in November, 38; in December, 65. Usage has barely dipped since. Much of it has been by Cameron himself: in his 2013 New Year messagein a party political broadcast in March; in set-piece speeches to business conferences; in more informal remarks to journalists; even, slightly bafflingly, in a speech in July to promote to the world the British legislative approach to same-sex marriage.”

One prominent UK writer, Michael Deacon, has referred to “Global Race Fever.”

The nonsense. There is an ocean of this kind of stuff out there, in pretty much every country in the world, and more of it every day.

A pushback is required.  Plenty more on this subject soon.



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