Monday, February 07, 2005

The Long Arm of Bouphonia

I hold this truth to be self-evident to anyone who's capable of imagining unlikely events: the good folks at the Guardian have clearly been cribbing from my posts on corporate scaremongering (hither, and thither). How else do you account for this?

It is a hard fact of life that it is cheaper to spend money lobbying against climate change policies and environmental protection than it is to invest in pollution control techniques. And the most used lobbying tactic, in the words of a chemical industry association - currently spending $50m (£27m) to weaken the EU's Reach directive on chemicals controls - is to "conduct and publicise an economic impact study to dramatise the potentially devastating impacts to industry and consumers". Scaremongering, in short.
I couldn't have said it better myself. On second thought, I could've, and I will now. Economic scaremongering by big business is not necessarily cheaper than "pollution control techniques." In many cases, it's more expensive across the board.

The extent to which you agree with me depends on what you think "pollution control techniques" means. If you're a partner in delusion with the sky-smitten galliform Cassandras of the libertarian right, it means installing scrubbers or filters or what have you, in order to control emissions at a given point. If you have a taut, elegant, and alert mind like mine, it means total redesign of process and product, which amounts to an investment in long-term competitiveness, efficiency, and consumer goodwill.

The anti-regulation propaganda route is a terrible long-term choice. It's reactionary, which is a bad habit of mind for business folk to get into (though to be fair, many of them seem to have been born that way). It's also liable to alienate consumers. In addition to proclaiming an unwillingness to be good citizens and neighbors, corporations who go this route are essentially saying "We're completely out of ideas, we can't innovate, we're lazy, we're stupid, and we like it that way."

If the free market comprises a glorious competition that ennobles all who vie honestly for its laurels, then propaganda of this type could be equated with steroid use; the risks involved in winning second place honestly are fewer than the risks of winning first place dishonestly.

And the fact is, someone is going to come up with the products and processes of the future; if you're in business, it had better be you. As the Guardian article notes, there's a fair amount of money at stake:
The world market for environmental goods and services is estimated at $515bn - comparable with the aerospace and pharmaceutical industries - and is forecast to grow to $688bn by 2010.
Since it's de rigeur to take a Social Darwinist view of economics, let me suggest that businesses that refuse to adapt to the realities of the marketplace will do the world a great favor by dying off. The potential long-term benefits of redesign will almost always outweigh the short-term costs; every dollar a business spends trying to frighten the public with doomsday economic scenarios is a dollar that would've been better spent on research and innovation. And God knows, companies that can't even look out for their own futures have no business trying to frighten us about ours.

4 comments:

rorschach said...

Hey Phila--

Just wanted to say I'm glad to see you're still posting, and I hope you've gotten past your recent bout of blog-funk.

Thersites said...

Of course there is also a market in public-frightening doomsday scenarios. An entire industry, even. And I imagine they do excellent outreach and networking with the executives concerned. There needs to be a similar PR apparatus on the other side.

Anonymous said...

Same goes for energy independence. As far as I can tell The Netherlands together with other European countries are cleaning our clock on renewables.

WHT said...

Sorry, =me= on the energy independence comment.