We read “Greed is Dead: Politics After Individualism” over our summer holidays and whilst we loved the book, we did not bring it to your attention because we weren’t certain that you would be interested in the subject. However, having seen Priyanka Chopra’s latest misadventure in America, we felt we should bring this book to your attention because many of us at Marcellus (and we suspect many of our clients) end up doing what Ms Chopra was about to do. Let’s first explain what Sir John Kay and Sir Paul Collier say in their 2020 publication, “Greed is Dead”.
What these two economists highlight is a powerful contradiction which runs through the mental models many of us use to live our lives, namely, with regards to matters of business, finance and economics, we believe in the free market and in capitalism. However, in matters regarding society, country and politics, we tend to be liberals who want to seen doing & saying politically correct things on climate change, the need to uplift the poor and the need to protect the rights of the oppressed. These contradictory lines of thought i.e. right wing beliefs when it comes to the economy and left liberal beliefs when it comes to society are untenable. Why? Because if we want the state to have less of a role when it comes to the economy (i.e. we want the state to tax and spend less) then how is the state supposed to protect the environment, uplift the poor and protect the oppressed?
This flawed thinking the two economists contend has exposed democracies to self-aggrandising, mediocre leaders who have nothing useful to offer but who are clever enough to spot the flaw in your & my mental models and then capitalise on the same. As Delphine Strauss puts it in the FT, “In Greed Is Dead, a brief but dense polemic, Collier and Kay contend that this individualist ethos is “no longer intellectually tenable”. They have two broad targets in their sights.
The first is Economic Man — described as the “repellent” invention of market fundamentalists who believe people act only to maximise their self-interest and must be monitored or bribed with bonus payments to serve the interests of their organisation.
This is not how most people behave in reality, whether in public service or in business — a successful business, the authors contend, is not an “eat what you kill” free-for-all but a successful community where people draw on collective knowledge and work towards a common goal.
Their second target is the self-righteous activist who loudly asserts an ever-expanding set of individual entitlements and legal rights — whether to intellectual property, housing, tertiary education or gender determination.
This kind of stridency, argue Collier and Kay, makes it harder to seek a political compromise through reasoned argument. Moreover, the expansion of rights that could only conceivably be met by the state makes it all but inevitable that governments will fail to meet expectations and lose the trust of voters.”
So where Ms Chopra fit into the picture? Last week in America, Ms Chopra did something which the two economists would say is straight out of the bleeding heart liberal’s copybook. In the words of Rebecca Nicholson of The Guardian, “After more than a year of lockdowns, and therefore limited opportunities to shine, famous people are putting themselves out there with gusto.
Nowhere has this chaotic energy been more apparent than in the saga of The Activist, which has been as compelling as a novel, albeit one that would be considered a bit too far-fetched. To recap, American television network CBS announced a new reality show called The Activist, which would pit six political activists against each other in a competition format, measuring their “successes” by online engagement, social media metrics and the judgments of the panel: noted grassroots organisers Julianne Hough, Priyanka Chopra and Usher. The final challenge, a showstopper, if you will, would have seen contestants lobbying at the forthcoming G20 in Rome.
Unsurprisingly, there was a backlash to end all backlashes and one that ended The Activist as it was supposed to be. Usually, I’d argue that you should see a show before you judge it, but this one defies all common sense. It’s as if The X Factor decided to to find Britain’s Next Top Doctor, with qualifications optional, so long as there’s a good sob story to carry the winner to victory.
I feel for the activists involved. Plenty of more thoughtful critics pointed out that the show was exploiting an underfunded arena and that enforced competition is not really in keeping with community-minded work. Inevitably, the producers announced that The Activist would no longer air as planned, but would be reshot as a one-hour documentary, with each contestant receiving a cash grant. Chopra posted a message on Friday admitting that the show had got it wrong.”
Ms Chopra is not alone. For decades now in Hollywood and Bollywood and in the drawing rooms of upper crust India, the done thing is to support a “cause”. To understand the futility of such activism – and how it has opened the door for narcissists to seize power – we suggest you read “Greed is Dead”.
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