Monday 19 March 2012

Where Is OUR Coalition Of The Sane?

Writing at the Commentator, James Delingpole has raised a grievance about big business or, specifically, its reticence to defend itself.

Bemoaning the fact that he seems to be fighting his corner without much support from organisations who should be doing so for themselves, he makes this observation.
Cowering in their dug-outs, that's where they are, most of them, while the poor bloody infantry (that'll be me, then) go out and do all their dirty, scary, dangerous work for them, thankless and mostly gratis. Either that, or worse still, they're giving succour to the other side, paying for enemy's ammunition, funding his propaganda, kow-towing to his anti-capitalist prejudices.
Now, he is talking about the supposedly all-powerful energy industry, but I think readers here will notice the similarities with the issues discussed here.

While those who enjoy their products are doing the arguing, we see - for example - fast food chains contributing to their own downfall by backsliding without any sign of reciprocal appreciation, and drinks companies falling on their own swords.
If all this sounds like sour grapes, that's partly because it is. Being paid as little as I am is galling enough; but what really takes the biscuit is regularly being told by enviro-loons like George Monbiot that only reason people like me write the stuff we do is because we're so lavishingly rewarded by Big Capitalism.
Yep, the old 'you must have been paid' nonsense that just about anyone who has ever taken time to challenge the 'consensus' on comment sections will recognise. A prime example here.
So why won't capitalism defend itself? Partly, I'm afraid, because so many have sold their souls to the corporatist devil. That letter from the chairman of Shell UK, et al, is a case in point. Big corporations actually quite like government regulation: not only does it shut out small competitors (who can less easily wear the costs of compliance) but it also, as in the case of wind farms and solar, enables them to make a fortune via taxpayer-funded environmental levies.

Partly it's because businesses are in the business of making money, not fighting for the right and true. If they think that their bottom line will be improved by "greenwashing" their image by sponsoring a few eco-initiatives or signing up to some sustainability code of practice imposed on them by the thugs at Greenpeace, then that's what they do, regardless of whether or not they believe in the cause.

But as Charles Koch noted recently in the Wall Street Journal this approach is short-termist and ultimately self-defeating:

"Crony capitalism is much easier than competing in an open market. But it erodes our overall standard of living and stifles entrepreneurs by rewarding the politically favored rather than those who provide what consumers want."
This is the 'level playing field' when faced with a smoking ban writ large. Instead of recognising the threat to their business, pub companies just caved in and pointed at the other guy as the bigger problem. Why not? The guns weren't trained on them at the time.

They certainly are now, though. George Osborne will be ramping up the beer tax again very soon, and there is very little appreciation of any efforts to satisfy dozy prohibitionist MPs being exhibited in parliament towards fast food or fizzy drinks manufacturers.

Apart from our esteemed mascot, of course, when was the last time you heard any MP stand up and defend McDonald's or Pepsi against their detractors? While they, in turn, endorse the prohibitionist cause without seeming to recognise that encouraging these people will only serve to enhance their opponents' case.

I make no apology for yet again quoting Crampton on this curious 'anyone but us' culture amongst those industries who are not approved by government.
It's like a bunch of folks on the scaffolds complaining that the other guy's noose isn't quite tight enough. Y'all might instead direct your attention to the hangman sometime and try helping each other cut those ropes.
There is so very much that other targeted industries could learn from the anti-tobacco crusade. There is very much to benefit them by forming some kind of coalition and sharing notes, even surreptitiously. Yet the behaviour we saw prior to, and post, 2007 suggests that they haven't even considered it.

These are multi-billion pound organisations without a spine. While their detractors are forming coalitions to share information and tactics, drinks companies - amongst others - are shouting "not me, Guv", and hoping they will be left alone.

They won't be, of course, nor will those who popularly provide fatty food, sugary drinks or the amber nectar. By dividing themselves, they are simply making it more easy to be conquered.

Where is the coalition of the sane we would like to see? One which would pull in support from all manner of regular, working people? One which would yank the Islington set from their elitist daydreams by harnessing the power of millions of ordinary people who are - contrary to the public health cultists - very happy indeed with their occasional Big Mac, can of Diet Coke, pint of Fosters, and packet of Marlboro Lights?

Nowhere. Because they are scared shitless of being marginalised and excluded from debate like 'Big Tobacco'. As if they have a choice!

It's coming to them no matter how much they think appeasement actually works. The only option is a full frontal attack.

We are living in an age where 'exposure' to second hand smoke in open parkland is supposedly dangerous enough to inspire a multitude of bans, without any supporting evidence whatsoever.

When the same kind of rhetoric is directed at food with just a little bit too much salt, sugar or fat being advertised during EastEnders, alarm bells should be ringing all over the place.
It follows recent research which suggests children are still exposed to the same level of junk food advertising despite tighter regulations.
What are these businesses doing allowing this?

Help us out here guys, for crying out loud! Stop thinking that by joining in the healthist crusade that you will be protected, it's just not a viable business model.

Stand up to them and stop being such pussies. Get round a table, discuss a joint approach - just as your opponents are doing - and write some bloody huge cheques. It's the only thing that will properly scare MPs.

We're waiting here to back you to the hilt - you know, us poor saps who buy your products? - just give us the nod and we'll be up front and centre.

Just like we are already, doing your work on comments sections and everywhere else that you fear to tread. As Delingpole points out, there are a whole load of us just waiting for some resistance from you to help us out.

Get to it. Before unelected supra-national pressure decides that none of you are allowed to talk to us again. Ever.


Jay said...

The problem is simply this:  Share price.  Or for the "How Companies Make Money for Dummies" readers: the "perceived value and net profit" of the company in the present market.  Any of you can stop reading here, if your attention span can't take another 50 seconds or so.

These days a company, even a "controversial" company, has stakeholders and shareholders to consider. They don't want to do anything that affects the bottom the line, upsets the board, or bringing further negative publicity which would affect the two former items.  So, they go along with everything, try to seem like they are "green" or good or noble in some daft way.  They pander.  They remain silent.  Yes, even tobacco companies are trying to be seen as eco-warriors.  Stupid.

Pussies, technically.  But then if you're being paid by a company to make money for that company, then it makes sense.  Pander to the prevailing view.  Keep the board happy. Don't make waves. Stay quiet and maybe you'll ride out the storm.

But...  but... they aren't silent.  Behind the scenes they are desperately trying to engage politicians and governments.  Tobacco companies, drinks companies, companies that make mayonnaise, and anyone who has a large brand portfolio, all of them are quietly wooing anyone who will listen to them.  They are, by and large, failing. No one is listening to them any more. Modern governments are not interested.  The public is increasingly getting stupider and more brainwashed, believing whatever the media tells them.  By attempting to pander, to play the game, these companies already lost it, but they haven't realised it yet.

I'm surprised that Coca-Cola and Unilever haven't come out against plain packaging.  Then again, they didn't oppose the smoking ban, not publicly.  Privately, they feared it.  Privately, they commiserated with tobacco companies and offered sincere condolences.  They knew then what it might lead to. They dared to hope it wouldn't.  It won't happen to us, they thought.  But it will.  Of course it will.  Deep down they know it.  But if they admit it, then their share price will suffer.  If they side with tobacco companies, then they are considered to be a proxy tobacco company.  "Dirty."  So they stay silent, daring to hope that the fate of the tobacco companies will not befall them.

I know this, because Tyler know this. 

Dick_Puddlecote said...

I wish I shared your faith that they privately commiserated, Jay. If they did, they hide it very well in distancing themselves, and that's the problem. Denial.

It's coming their way, it's clear. Tobacco companies would doubtless embrace the chance of being able to argue their case, but they're routinely ignored now by order of unelected bodies. Remember this? 

We're fast approaching the point where other unapproved industries will be ignored as a matter of policy, and it's about time they pulled their fingers out before it's too late. 

nisakiman said...

Sadly, Jay is correct. They just don't want to stick their corporate heads above the parapet in case they attract a stray arrow.

This attitude is, however, both cowardly and short-termist. And ultimately self-defeating. A stand against the prohibitionists now would produce long-term dividends; but we live in a risk averse society, and the big corporations are no exception.

So it is left to us, the awkward brigade, to do battle with the leviathan, like so many Davids, armed with a few stones, trying to halt the advance of a well equipped army.

Doubtless, when it is too late, they will realise that it might have been a good idea to back up their grass-roots supporters. But I fear that realisation will only come when the vultures are picking over their carcasses, throwing tasty gobbets of a once independent company to their socialist chums.

Jay said...

Well, I know they did indeed commiserate. I was there.  The biggest British companies meet quarterly, or sometimes twice a year, to discuss policy, laws, how best to be lobbying government, etc.  It's not a conspiracy or anything like that.  It's a meeting of legal departments, mostly, and some marketing twats who are the root of all evil.

The only thing the non-tobacco companies have going for them is the knowledge of how the tobacco companies failed. They know which strategies won't work, so they can attempt to come up with new strategies that won't work.  Until we can all get the media on our side, it is mostly hopeless.  Maybe a grass roots thing could work, but most people are too caught up in their own self-interests to give a fuck.  It's frustrating.

I do remember that post and the events surrounding it. The most frustrating thing is how tobacco companies cannot seem to cooperate.  Yes, they are competitors, but they are all in it together when it comes to tobacco policies.  Nevertheless they just can't seem to agree on anything.  Imperial wants to do one thing.  Philip Morris another.  BAT still another.  If only they could come together, they might actually prevail.  Sadly, this is unlikely due to historical and often petty animosity between them.

Jay said...

 Man, I just posted a reply and it's gone.  It was there... and it's gone!  :(

Eric Crampton said...

Jason Sorens proposed a "Coalition for Fun", noted here: 

Guest said...

Isn't this more to do with raising tax revenue by an increasingly desperate cabal of controllers who are now entering the end game where they begin to fight with each other?

No tobacco company has diversified. None have pulled out of the UK. The righteous want a ban on tobacco products and yet the controllers would never implement a ban because the loss of tax to 'whitey van man', 'pe rsonal import' and 'tob acco smugglers' would be collossal not to mention the policing costs (look how much they blow on the demonisation of another plant people enjoy smoking... again without any evidence that the smoke produced by the burning of said plant has ever killed a single human being anywhere on earth).

At the root of this is wealth creation for the few. I used to think it was all about controlling the slaves but not any longer. The righteous are a means to an end and nothing more no matter what fields they play in. Once the taxation levels actually lower the number of people who buy their tax plus tobacco from 'legal outlets' the 'new research' will come to light which disproves all the gobbledygook science that is trolling the country today.

The controllers now have a process to extract more in taxation from any group of people they choose to go after. Beer, salt, fat, junk food, chocolate, cheese, jam, sugar etc etc.
Demonise it by playing the health card ' a survey said' or 'experts said today' > Fund a few fake charities or if they don't exist build a quango > attracting the 'professional righteous' > introduce a moderate tax that no-one will notice > ramp the tax up until the pips squeak. Rinse Wash and repeat.

Tax on one personal habit, the smoking of tobacco, is a profit centre in the same way as taxing the use of a motor vehicle is a profit centre. Taxation is theft made legal by statute. The only time the HOC is guaranteed to be bursting at the seams is when the 650 pass the finance bill (or whatever its called) which keeps the temporary income tax in place.

and the 'merry go round' of life in these British Isles spins on...

Lyn Ladds said...

Being cynical, my take on this is that those at the top just want to protect their own enormous salaries and bonuses plus, ultimately, their golden handshakes and pensions.

If they ride it out for now, going along with what government dictate, they will be taking their early retirement by the time the real crisis hits their business, so it will be a case of "We're alright Jack, ta very much".

Just like politicians, put their own greed and wellbeing before that of the people, their workforce, and the population in general.

Jay said...

"No tobacco company has diversified." 

Well, by law, they really can't sell anything except for tobacco products, or possibly products derived from tobacco.  They can't make anything new. So they can't really diversify.  Hell, they can't even sell snus is this country.  It's a tobacco product, but the companies are prohibited from introducing any new ones. The laws say they can't do much at all.

"None have pulled out of the UK."

By this do you mean none has moved their business out of the UK or stopped selling products here?  In either case, the market here remains profitable.  PM is a Swiss company, Imperial and BAT are British companies, but all of them have subsidiaries all of the world.  If it all goes tits, there are fallbacks.

Anyway, you're right that it's about taxation.  But that is just a means to effect control over people.  I agree with you that taxation is theft.  It is theft by threat of force or loss of liberty.  I think most people would be happy to voluntarily pay tax for basic services. However this is a complicated topic for another day... and I've only just woke up. 

John Watson said...

Perhaps it is not just the companies that should accept critism for the way they roll over to the lobbyists and lawmakers, the shareholders should accept some of the responsibility themselves. It is they who finance these companies by purchasing shares  in order to make a profit for themselves yet they seem to be very quiet.

Despite the best efforts of Anti-smokers tobacco companies are doing very well, they pay pay out very good dividends to their shareholders which is why so many councils hold shares in them. the same cannot be said for the Pubco's who are paying smaller and smaller dividends each year as more and more pubs close. This means less in dividends for their shareholders a large number of whom don't seem to be that concerned about losing their money.

Maybe when that situation becomes too much they may either withdraw theii investment at a loss or make a fuss at the shareholders meetings some thing which either is not happening or is not being reported in the finacial press. 

Both the tobacco industry and the Leisure industry as whole are greatly affected by the Health Act 2006 yet neither industy nor their shareholders seem to care, when in time Alcohol follows tobaco down the road to purgatory I doubt that the alcohol and associated leisure industries will survive as they become penalised more and more in the same way as the tobacco companies.

Sadly those who suffer the most, who work within this industry will not fight, their employers will not fight so it will all end badly  for them. Those who are fighting on their behalf, for the most part consumers should not give up, as this situation developes demand will outstrip supply leaving companies no option but to fight with the consumer or watch the criminal element step in enjoying huge profits at 0% tax rates just as they did during the prohibition years in America.   

Sam Duncan said...

I still say the best response the tobacco industry could give to plain packaging is simply to pull out of those markets that mandate it. They should have done it when their advertising was censored in the first place. The neopuritans would be dancing in the streets, but the majority would be angry as hell, and the government would be scared shitless at the loss of revenue (not to mention the likely increase in organised crime, as it stepped in to supply the demand).

Of course, that would require them to work together, and they refuse. It's the most powerful blow the could deal to their opponents, and they won't use it.

The only reason the neopuritans get away with this is that they know the
industries they're bullying want to continue doing business here. It's
Rand's “sanction of the victim”. Call their bluff. Go Galt.

Jay said...

Causing your customers to hate you is not a sound business strategy.  Giving your competitors a chance to dominate a market is not a sound business strategy. Do you know how many tobacco companies there are?  Hundreds.  There are about 6 really big ones and hundreds of smaller companies, all vying for a decreasing market share in Europe.  If the big ones pull out, I hope smokers won't mind the dodgy-ass Chinese cigs that will be sold here instead. 

Anyway, so far the only market that has mandated it is Australia.  I have no doubt the UK will follow, because the UK has no leadership at all.  The Queen just said that tolerance is what made Britain great. By her own words, then, Britain is pathetic shell of its former self.

And it's not a bluff, Sam.  It's a concerted, organised effort by a blinded minority to enforce their lifestyle viewpoints on others.  Education didn't work, or didn't work fast enough them.  The only thing left is to get government to do it for them.  You're right that gov't wants the revenue from tobacco, but if they lose it all, what do you think will happen?  Do you think they'll just say, "Well, that's all right. We'll just have to get by with what we have."  Fuck no, they won't.  They'll raise taxes everywhere else.  All of those VAT exemptions will disappear faster than you can say "ASH Sucks!" 

Curmudgeon said...

Sadly it has always been so - capitalists are about the last people who will actually stand up for capitalism.

Sam Duncan said...

Fair points. As I said, they'd need to act together, and they won't. There'd always be someone who saw the opportunity and broke ranks, but the point is that a campaign of the likes Dick's talking about, by the industry as a (more or less) whole, would have to remind people why they're having to put up with crappy Chinese fags.

Anyway, it's all academic, because it ain't gonna happen.