Sunday, August 30, 2009

James Murdoch and the New Social Darwinism

Oh dear. Murdoch Junior has made rather a fool of himself. Silly chump.

He must of thought he was being so clever. 'Please, sir, please, sir, there's this man called Darwin'.

'Yes, Murdoch. He's rather well-known. You should have come across him before'.

But, sir, sir, isn't support of state intervention in the media an exact parallel to creationist rejections of theories of natural evolution?'

'Oh, dear, Murdoch. You really aren't the brightest button in the box, are you?'

My interest is not in the mechanisms of improving the quality of our media, which is, it must be said, woefully low-brow, lowest-common-denominator stuff that could make an orang-utan weep with boredom. What fascinates me is James Murdoch's rhetoric and the thinking (yes, I use the term lightly) that lies behind it.

Certain events in the middle of the twentieth century put pay to most concepts of social Darwinism. But, admirably swimming against that tide, Mr Murdoch would like to re-introduce such ideas into our parlance. And, to those who would suggest that the exportation of evolutionary theories into the workings of the market place is no more than a dodgy comparison, he's happy to trump it with yet another: those who don't agree with him are 'creationists'. Clever rhetorical move, for what liberal would want to be on their side?

Yet, this all seems to forget that liberalism has happened. Liberals both decreased the size of government and also re-directed it so that it could do the essential work of helping people to the starting-block of equality of opportunity. Liberals created the welfare state precisely because individual interventions were not enough to offset the malevolent side-effects of the market.

In reality, of course, Mr Murdoch doesn't want to get rid of the state. After all, his money wouldn't be worth much if there was nobody to honour it. His speech implicitly accepts the need for regulation in his small area of the world (is he a creationist in disguise?). As long, it seems, as if the regulation does not upsets him.

We all, then, work within the parameters of recognising the need for state intervention, but wanting to minimise it when its harm could outweigh its benefit. But Mr Murdoch's rhetoric takes us in another, more dangerous direction, making a specious parallel between the theory of the evolution of spieces and the reality of markets. There is something in this which is terribly Panglossian: in the best of all possible worlds (that is, one in which governments keep their hands off whatever Mr Murdoch wants to have his hands on), all will be for the best. But, of course, markets are incorrigibly benign, born with an instinct for good on which we can all rely. Unlike evolution, then.

Ever thought what dodo meat would have tasted like?

1 comment:

Nickname unavailable said...

I remember reading Murdoch's MacTaggart lecture when he first produced it so long ago. A large part of me wants to dismiss out of hand his arguments - I love the BBC, despite its sometimes-dubious decision-making! He's a Murdoch! - but a few points he makes take me aback:
- "the expansion of state-
sponsored journalism is a threat to the plurality and independence of news provision, which are so important for our democracy" - this is true, although I suspect the alternative Murdoch has in mind (a marketplace ruled by a few monolithic media organizations like News Corp) is the right solution
- "Spending on original British children’s programming has fallen by nearly 40% since 2004, including, inexplicably, a 21% fall at the BBC at a time when the Corporation has been able to spend £100m a year out-bidding commercial channels for US programming - a figure which has increased by a quarter in the past two years." - this is a good point - what is going on there?

His analogy about evolution is probably faulty, as you say. And his evident aim is to make money for himself. But he does bring up interesting points: firstly, about the structure of the BBC Trust, which as I understand it is meant to perform the contradictory duties of acting as both an advocate and a regulator of the BBC; as well as questions about whether the BBC is really venturing into under-served markets, or whether it's saturating areas of radio and television already well-served by the commercial sector.