Manufacturing Consent, Propaganda And The Climate Denial Beast

 


“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”—Edward Bernays, Propaganda

A seminal and controversial figure in the history of political thought and public relations, Edward Bernays (1891–1995), pioneered the scientific technique of shaping and manipulating public opinion, which he famously dubbed “engineering of consent.”

His 1928 bombshell Propaganda lays out his eerily prescient vision for using propaganda to regiment the collective mind in a variety of areas, including government, politics, art, science and education. To read this book today is to frightfully comprehend what our contemporary institutions of government and business have become in regards to organized manipulation of the masses.

‘I Was Only Following Orders.’

By Daniel Margrain

I was only following orders of my superiors” was a not an adequate defense for Nazi war criminals”. The legal precedent set by the Nuremberg Principle IV states:

“The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

Back in December The Poor Side of Life made the following observation:

I was stopped by a homeless chap who wanted to congratulate us on our hard work. He said that he hated this Job Centre. His friend who lived on the streets with him had been sanctioned after being taken off the sickness benefits that he was on and was put on Job seekers Allowance. He had severe mental health and addiction problems. He was sanctioned, and without warm clothes and very little food he fell asleep on the streets and never woke up. He died of hypothermia. People had passed him and thought that he was asleep. He didn’t stand a chance. And what do the Job Centre staff say? “We are only following orders.” 

On August 27 the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that the number who died while claiming incapacity benefits between January 2011 and February 2014 was a shocking 91,740. This represents an increase to an average of 99 deaths per day or 692 per week, between the start of December 2011 and the end of February 2014 – compared with 32 deaths per day/222 per week between January and November 2011. DWP figures also show that some 2,380 people have died after being found fit for work and losing benefits.

Canadian Disability Studies specialist and disability activist Samuel Miller, has been communicating frequently and voluntarily, since January 2012, to senior United Nations officials, on the welfare crisis for the United Kingdom’s sick and disabled. The campaigning seems to have worked as the U.N seems likely to set up an inquiry into the sheer brutality and callousness of Iain Duncan Smith and his department.

Duncan Smiths attacks on the most vulnerable in society are being undertaken on the basis of the Tory support for austerity which is one of the greatest ever confidence tricks perpetuated on the British public. The reality is austerity under the behest of civil servants’ following orders, kills the poorest whilst the pockets of the wealthiest get fatter.

The Economic Crisis: How Did We Get Here?

An investor watches an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage office in Beijing, China

The roots of the current crisis go some way back. After the 9/11 attack in New York, instability and fear pervaded financial markets. In order to steer the US and world economy out of a tight corner there was a reduction in interest rates and loosening of credit, encouraging people to borrow to sustain demand.

Banks took advantage of this and started to push mortgages. Initially the banks were lending on fairly good terms but then competition set in and those with money found they could expand their wealth by borrowing at low interest rates in order to lend to those prepared to pay higher interest rates. One of the main groups prepared to pay these higher rates were poorer sections of the population desperate to get somewhere to live. As long as house prices continued rising, they seemed a safe group to lend to, since there was always a profit to be made by repossessing their homes if they failed to pay up on time. This lending became known as the “subprime mortgage market”.

Although on the surface this appeared to be a form of secure lending, in reality it was risky. Why? Because by 2006 the US economy began slowing down and profits in the US started to fall. As profits declined, firms got rid of workers and poor American’s could no longer keep up with their rising mortgage payments. Borrowing at one end of the chain could not be repaid. Repossessions led to falling house prices, and the “collateral” that supposedly guaranteed (provided security) against the loans, fell in value as well. An enormous 400 billion US dollars in lending was suddenly not repayable.

A whole host of new institutions emerged that began specializing in the same manner as the banks. They would obtain cheap credit in the environment of low interest rates after 2001, use it to make loans, and then ‘securitize’ them. Other financial institutions would also use cheap credit to buy the new securities. Other financial institutions would combine several of these securities to create even more complex forms of debt obligations.

In this baroque and opaque world, fueled by cheap credit, it did not take long before just about all the major financial institutions across the world found themselves holding securities that contained bits of subprime mortgages. What was originally a small sickness within the US economy grew enormously because of the way capitalist credit works. In the end, governments’ were forced to intervene by bailing out vast swathes of the capitalist system as a precursor to saving it:

In spring 2008, Bear Sterns became an early high profile casualty of the crisis on Wall Street. Lehman Brothers followed shortly afterwards and the meltdown in Greece shortly after that. These problems emerged on the back of three decades of sustained low profitability.After World War two profit rates held up at about 15 per cent in the US. By the 1980s it was 10 per cent, and today it is just 5 per cent:

This would appear to indicate that the underlying problems of the global economy are systemic.

What is Marx’s explanation?

Marx’s basic line of argument was simple. Individual capitalists can increase their own competitiveness by increasing the productivity of their workforce. The way to do this is by using a greater quantity of the “means of production”—tools, machinery and so on—for each worker. There is a growth in the ratio of the physical extent of the means of production to the amount of labour power employed, a ratio that Marx called the “technical composition of capital”.

But a growth in the physical extent of the means of production will also be a growth in the investment needed to buy them. So this too will grow faster than the investment in the workforce. To use Marx’s terminology, “constant capital” grows faster than “variable capital”. The growth of this ratio, which he calls the “organic composition of capital”, is a logical corollary of capital accumulation.

Yet the only source of value for the system as a whole is labour. If investment grows more rapidly than the labour force, it must also grow more rapidly than the value created by the workers, which is where profit comes from. In short, capital investment grows more rapidly than the source of profit. As a consequence, there will be a downward pressure on the ratio of profit to investment—the rate of profit.

Each capitalist has to push for greater productivity in order to stay ahead of competitors. But what seems beneficial to the individual capitalist is disastrous for the capitalist class as a whole. Each time productivity rises there is a fall in the average amount of labour in the economy as a whole needed to produce a commodity (what Marx called “socially necessary labour”), and it is this which determines what other people will eventually be prepared to pay for that commodity. So today we can see a continual fall in the price of goods such as computers or DVD players produced in industries where new technologies are causing productivity to rise fastest:

As the rate of return on investment declines in its totality, so it is the weakest companies financially – but not necessarily technologically – that go out of business. In turn, this results in an increase in unemployment. Thus workers are able to purchase fewer goods and services. This inevitably leads to a downward spiral of economic slump and crisis within the system as a whole.

But Marx argued that there were counterveiling factors which mitigated against a total collapse of the system. For example, the diversion of investment from the production of goods and services to the production of arms – a process that is governed by states that are in constant competition with one another – provided a very important role in producing the long boom after the Second World War.

Also, Marx argued that profitability could be restored by crisis itself, through what he called “the annihilation of a great part of the capital”. During a recession some companies fail and are bought up by rivals, and others have to sell off parts of their business or dump their stock on the market to meet their obligations. Those companies that survive can take advantage of this, grabbing assets at a fraction of their real value and putting them to highly profitable use in the recovery that follows. Depressed wages and high unemployment also allow capitalists to squeeze more out of workers. A process of “creative destruction” may lead to a boom following a slump.

But this is not some automatic process that pushes the economy back towards some natural equilibrium. The post-war boom followed only after the prolonged horror of the 1930s slump and the destruction of the Second World War, which also forced states to intervene to reorganise whole national economies.

Could we be heading to a repeat of the Great Depression?

This is a difficult question to answer. There are significant differences between the situation that led to the current crisis and the one in 1929. First, state expenditure has for nearly 70 years been central to the system in a way in which it was not in 1929. In that year federal government expenditures represented only 2.5 per cent of GNP but they currently stand at around 20 per cent. And unlike in 1929, the government in 2008 moved quickly to intervene in the economy. The Hoover administration (March 1929-February 1933) did make a few moves aimed at bolstering the economy, so that state spending rose slightly in 1930, and federal money was used to bail out some banks and rail companies through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932. But the moves were very limited in scope—and the state could still act in ways that could only have exacerbated the crisis in 1931 and 1932.

The Fed increased interest rates to banks and the government raised taxes. It was not until after the inauguration of the Roosevelt administration in March 1933 that there was a decisive increase in government expenditure. But even then the high point for total federal government spending in 1936 was only just over 9 percent of national output—and in 1937 began to decline. There is a base level of demand in the economy of the today that provides a floor below which the economy will not sink that didn’t exist in the early 1930s.

In this way, the growth in military expenditure since the Great Depression, clearly plays a particularly important role guaranteeing markets to giant corporations thereby mitigating the impact of the crisis. But there is an important second difference that operates in the opposite direction. The major financial and industrial corporations operate on a much greater scale than in the inter-war years and therefore the strain on governments of bailing them out is disproportionately larger. The banking crises of the early 1930s in the US was a crisis of a mass of small and medium banks.Very big banks did not often become insolvent and fail, even in periods of widespread bank failures:

This time we have seen a crisis of many of the biggest banks in most major economies. Within a day of Lehman Brothers going bust, banks such as HBOS in Britain, Fortis in the Benelux countries, Hypo Real Estate in Germany and the Icelandic banks were all in trouble. From there the crisis spread to affect other major banks and the “shadow banking system” of hedge funds, derivatives and so on. In October 2008, The Guardian reported the losses to be a staggering $2.8 trillion.

Despite this, global industrial production now shows clear signs of recovering. This is a sharp divergence from experience in the Great Depression, when the decline in industrial production continued fully for three years. Paradoxically, staving off a catastrophic slump has meant that problems have lingered on.

The recovery is also uneven. British growth remains sluggish at just 0.3 percent, the lowest growth rate since the last quarter of 2013. The US is growing faster, and is also faring better than Germany and Japan, which are more export-oriented and have suffered more from the decline in world trade than from the initial financial meltdown. China was also hit by falling demand for its exports but despite its long boom due to a massive state-sponsored domestic investment programme, the crisis has impacted their too.

The weakness of the global recovery means that people will continue to suffer. In some countries this takes the form of high unemployment and attacks on wages, as in the US, Spain and Ireland. In others, such as Germany and Japan, where unemployment has not risen as fast, companies have sought to hold on to workers but have cut pay rates, reduced hours or shifted workers onto part-time contracts. Britain lies somewhere between the two extremes.

Unemployment and underemployment is likely to persist well into any recovery. An IMF report argues that employment falls further and takes longer to recover during recessions that have a significant financial component. The report indicates that it could take a year and a half from the end of the recession for any substantial improvement, assuming that the recession ends.

Finally, any recovery is and will remain uncertain. State interventions replaced private borrowing and investment with mountains of public debt, and falling tax revenues made it difficult to recover the money spent. Now governments everywhere face a dilemma. Do they cut back to pay off their debts, risking a deeper recession or do they continue spending and risk a run on their currencies?

The Austerity Con-Trick

Cash machines targeted by Occupy protesters

Cash machines targeted by Occupy protesters (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The UK government mantra that it’s imperative to reduce the deficit (the difference between the money coming in and going out) is one of the greatest confidence tricks to have ever been fostered on the British people. In reality, the deficit could be wiped out at a stroke. In his documentary film The Spirit of ’45, Ken Loach highlighted that in the decade after the war, the UK government built 300,000 affordable homes a year and brought the NHS into being.

The chart below shows at that time UK national debt – the accumulation of deficits – stood at about 180% of GDP. At present it’s about a third of that.

UK National Debt since 1900.

uk-national-debt
Source: Reinhart, Camen M. and Kenneth S. Rogoff, “From Financial Crash to Debt Crisis,” NBER Working Paper 15795, March 2010. and OBR from 2010.

So why in 2015 are we apparently unable to afford to prevent the most vulnerable in society from committing suicide as a result of cuts to their benefits, yet after the war we were able to build hundreds of thousands of affordable homes for people to live in as well as bring our NHS into being? Why the insistence on getting the deficit down especially since there is no law forcing the government to repay the debt?

The answer to those questions is that since the crisis hit in 2008, there’s been an iron clad consensus between both the Labour Party hierarchy and the Tory right, predicated on neoliberal ideology which is used as a weapon with which to beat the poor with by way of the former’s support for, and the latter’s implementation of, a sustained programme of austerity and cuts. It’s this iron clad consensus that Jeremy Corbyn wants to break.

The notion that it’s imperative the British government “balances the budget” in order to reduce government debt is nonsense, as is the analogy that national budgets need to be treated just like household budgets. The bailiffs won’t be entering the House of Commons or the Bank Of England any time soon. The truth is, unlike personal debt, the deficits and debts of governments’ are not of primary importance.

When he became chancellor in 2010, Gideon Osborne boasted that he would eliminate the deficit by April 2015. But that plan is in tatters. He has now put back the promise to 2018/19. The government had to borrow £3.7 billion more in the first seven months of last year. This was partly because North Sea oil and gas revenues plummeted to a four year low.

The UK is a relatively low wage economy compared to it’s major rivals and its productivity gap with these nations’ is at the widest it’s been for 20 years. Moreover, because many of the new jobs created in Britain are mainly part time (against a backdrop of the longest drop in real wages since records began), means that tax revenues are low.

In order to make up the shortfall between real and expected revenues, the government borrows money by selling bonds which are essentially IOUs with the promise of future repayment. In the meantime, the government pays interest on these bonds which are sold to banks, insurance firms and even pension funds. The total of bonds that have been sold is called “public debt”.

In a crisis like the one we’ve had since 2008, bond buyers can demand higher interest payments which they have done. This explains why the cost to the government in terms of the interest on the national debt has risen since the beginning of the crisis as illustrated in the table below.

uk-debt-interest-payments-total

To appease the bond buyers, the government has imposed austerity on the people. We constantly read in the gutter press about the rail workers allegedly holding the government to ransom, but never the bankers – funny that!

During the peak of the swinging sixties, government debt was greater than it is in 2015 and yet, unlike those golden days, we are told that both the government and the citizens of today have to tighten their belts as though we were living the austere days of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The truth is the post war Keynesian boom resulted in a steadily declining debt from it’s peak in the 1950s. This is because higher wages and high employment means greater spending power, which in turn means greater economic activity and higher government tax revenues.

This is precisely the kind of argument progressive capitalists like Nick Hanauer point to. The reason billionaires like him argue for a doubling in the national minimum wage is not because they are altruistic but because they understand that it’s in their best interests’ and that of the capitalist system as a whole. That message needs to be relayed to Cameron and Osborne.

Housing Benefits The Rich

Figures shared with the Guardian by Generation Rent suggest landlords could be gaining as much as £2
Figures shared with the Guardian by Generation Rent suggest landlords could be gaining as much as £26.7bn a year from the taxpayer. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/Guardian

It’s been clear for a very long time that the main purpose of the tax system is to provide benefits to the wealthy. The minister responsible for cutting income support for the poor, Iain Duncan Smith, lives on an estate owned by his wife’s family. During the last decade it has received €1.5m in income support by way of farm subsidies from taxpayers.

In what has been dubbed the “Great British Sell-Off” and the “Sale of the Century”, the chancellor, George Osborne, intends to sell off public owned stakes in Royal Mail, RBS, the Met Office, Ordnance Survey and air traffic controller, Nats, which will rake in a one-off windfall of around £31.7 billion in 2016/17 – an amount which surpasses all privatisations since 1993, breaking even Thatcher’s record. To put this into a wider context, the money raised which will benefit the minority of Osborne’s elite friends in the city, will be the largest amount of money raised through the disposal of public assets in any 12-month period in modern history.

The ideology underpinning this public asset stripping is part of a strategy to reduce the role of the state that will do nothing to stimulate growth. On the one hand, Osborne announced £12 billion of cuts – the pain of which will be felt by the most vulnerable. On the other, he rushed through the sale of £2 billion worth of the 79 per cent stake the government has in RBS and as a result it was the taxpayers who lost out on a potential £14 billion return. It should also be noted that the Tory aristocrat, who seems set to be next in line to take the reins of PM from his friend David Cameron, had promised action on tax avoidance in spite of the fact that his family business routinely avoids tax.

Meanwhile, the UK version of a Kardashian, the royal parasite Princess Beatrice, who has been spotted taking to the water on Roman Abramovich’s £1 billion super yacht, Eclipse, has racked up seventeen holidays in eight months at our expense.

The real benefit spongers, then, are not those who feature on low brow documentary programmes, but rather they are the elites who occupy the corridors of power. If the richest 1,000 people in Britain that have seen their wealth increase by a massive £155bn since the current economic crisis began in 2008, were to actually pay their fair share of tax, the deficit the government assures us needs reducing, would be wiped out at a stroke.

But there is no priority within government to insist they cough up. Asda, Google, Apple, eBay, Ikea, Starbucks, Vodafone: all pay minimal tax on massive UK revenues, mostly by diverting profits earned in Britain to their parent companies, or lower tax jurisdictions via royalty and service payments or transfer pricing. The £1 billion that Gideon gave away to his pals in the city on August 4 in the RBS share giveaway would have gone a long way to fund the deficit in the NHS, whose trusts’ claim are “unaffordable”.

However, the redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich doesn’t end there. After dissecting yesterday’s Guardian piece on welfare spending, Craig Murray highlights how housing Benefit represents another form of massive subsidy and wealth transfer, particularly in London and the South East of England where, in the absence of housing benefit or inheritance, it’s impossible for anyone on the average income to live.

As Murray says, the distortion in house prices in this part of the UK has nothing to do with very wealthy foreign buyers concentrated at the top end of the market, but rather, it’s to do with:

the conjunction of buy to let and state housing benefit. The state pays out 18 billion pounds a year in housing benefit, and the vast majority of that goes straight into the pockets of private landlords in the South East of England. State housing benefit underpins the entire system.”

Now the brilliance of the trick is that, as it is labeled a benefit, the left fight to keep housing benefit as though it benefited poor people. In fact this is a great illusion. It does nothing of the sort. What would truly benefit poor people is lower rent or affordable homes. Housing benefit goes straight into the pockets of the landlord class.

The landlord class of course encompasses the political class, many of whom (including Cherie Blair, famously) are also landlords. As housing benefit is paid for from general taxation, the entire system is a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, and above all from the North and West to the South and East.

The landlord class benefit not only from the taxpayer giving them enormous rents, but from the possession of artificially inflated property on which they can raise further money for more speculation…. The reason that IDS has not made a serious assault on housing benefit is that it puts money straight into the pockets of most of his Tory chums.

The largest benefit recipients in the UK are the great landlords….[P]umping in 18 billion pounds of state money a year to rents adds 288 billion pounds to property values.That explains how you reach the apparently impossible situation of median property at twelve times median income.

Bankers bankrolled by the taxpayer, as well as local authorities that administer housing benefit – both of whom owe their continuing existence to public funds – should be acting in the public interest not frittering away public money into the pockets of the rich.

Turning Children Into Consumers

Children are naïve about advertising and can easily be manipulated and exploited by marketers to want and demand their products. Corporate marketers believe that over time they can be shaped into lifelong consumers with brand loyalties and that can be profitable for decades to come. What is more, children influence family spending decisions worth hundreds of billions of dollars on household items like furniture, electrical appliances and computers, vacations, and even the family car.

Corporations began targeting their marketing messages directly to children during the 1980s, as affluent adult markets became saturated with consumer goods. Large firms established ‘kids’ departments and smaller firms specialised in marketing to children. A number of advertising industry publications were created such as Selling to Kids and Marketing to Kids Report. The academic literature began to feature studies of children as consumers.

In the US the amount corporations spent marketing to children under twelve increased by five times between 1980 and 1990 and ten times more during the 1990s. In 2004 around $15 billion was being spent marketing to children. Conferences on the best ways to market to children are held all over the world. There are also awards for the best advertisements and marketing campaigns with hundreds of entries.

Much marketing to children now consists of sales promotions such as direct coupons, free gifts and samples, contests and sweepstakes, and public relations exercises such as using celebrities and licensed characters to visit shopping centres and schools. These additional forms of marketing have supplemented rather than replaced advertising as the importance of the children’s market has grown. Their aim however is the same as advertising.

The international children’s market is increasingly attractive to transnational corporations who seek to make their brands and products popular in different cultural milieus. The food industry was a pioneer in these efforts. In 1997 Brandweek magazine noted that McDonald’s was the favourite fast food all over the world and Coca-Cola the favourite drink.

COMING TO A SCREEN NEAR YOU

Not only are there many more advertisements aimed at children but they are increasingly infiltrating the private and public spaces where children play and learn. Today’s children are confronted with advertisements almost everywhere they go. There are now television stations, radio stations, newspapers and magazines delivering underage audiences to advertisers 24 hours a day.

As the amount of money being spent increased, the age that children were targeted decreased. A marketing conference in 2000 in New York was entitled “Play-Time, Snack-Time, Tot-Time: Targeting Pre-Schoolers and their Parents”. There is even a US cable station, BabyFirstTV, which aims at under-two year-olds.

Television is an ideal way for advertisers to reach children as it is so omnipresent in homes around the world. In more than a third of the homes of American preschool children the television is on most of the time, whether or not anyone is watching. By the time they get to first grade American children will have “spent the equivalent of three school years in the tutelage of the family television set” and by the time they finish high school they will have spent more time watching television than they spent in class for their entire schooling.

In the UK, the average child watches around 17 hours of television a week. Three out of four children between 5 and 16 have a television in their bedroom. UK children view more than 18,000 television adverts each year.

Individual commercials are repeatedly shown for months and “effectively penetrate” the language and thinking of young children. They repeat advertising jingles and slogans to friends, draw advertising images and logos in their artwork, and discuss advertisements with their friends. Roy Fox, in his book Harvesting Minds, pointed out: “A person’s image and language create his or her sense of selfhood. And this selfhood – especially during our formative years – is the most valuable, fragile quality we’ll ever embrace.” Yet it is sold as a commodity over and over. Today it is advertising jingles that children sing rather than nursery rhymes.

The internet, video games and mobile phones have also provided opportunities for “new, personalized promotions” aimed at children. Children as young as four are being targeted by internet advertisers and often the interaction with the children is unmediated by parents or teachers. UK advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi noted: “Interactive technology is at the forefront of kid culture, allowing us to enter into contemporary kid life and communicate with them in an environment they call their own.”

Advertisements appear on banners at the top of websites, on scroll down frames at the side of the windows, and unbidden on pop-up windows. There are even animated product “spokescharacters” to interact with the children and develop relationships with them so that they can be persuaded to buy something.

Internet advertising is particularly effective at targeting children because they are less able to tell the difference between advertisements and other content. They are more likely, for example, to click on banner ads thinking they are part of the website, offering information or entertainment, and they tend not to take any notice of annotations like “AD” or “PAID” that are supposed to indicate advertisements.

The meagre regulations that television advertising is subject to don’t apply to the internet. Advertisers and marketers are free to merge content with advertising and exploit children with few if any limits. The ads on internet sites are often integrated with the other content of the internet site – games and competitions, music downloads, video clips, discount coupons, online chat rooms, free email, club membership, gossip, fashion tips or advice – which is designed to keep the children engrossed in play for hours at a time and to keep them coming back. Marketers and advertisers are “fundamentally reshaping the digital culture, creating new hybrid forms that blend communications, content and commerce”.

For example the Family Education Network, a division of Pearson Education, runs FunBrain.com and FEkids.com websites for children with “the hottest collections of games and activities” on the internet. It offers advertisers access to “over 7.5 million unique kids targeted by age and gender”, three quarters of whom are between 6 and 12 years old.

Three quarters of food manufacturers advertising on the internet have designed websites specifically for children, some for very young children; many others have websites that have a children’s section. The address of the website is often given on the product packaging. Most of these websites are plastered with brand logos and advertising claims and include links to other food related sites.  On some websites children are encouraged to view television advertisements for the product. On others they are offered branded downloads such as music clips, mobile phone ringtone, desktop wallpaper, screensavers.

EXPLOITING CHILDREN’S LACK OF CYNICISM

It is unethical to advertise to children who are unable to distinguish the advertisements from television programs or internet content, unable to understand the purpose of advertisements, and unable to critically evaluate advertisements and the claims they make.

Between ages two and five most children cannot even differentiate what happens on television from reality. They are very interested in commercials, which they believe without reservation. Marketing consultant, Dan Acuff, notes that until the age of seven children tend to accept television advertising at face value and he advises advertisers how to take advantage of that. For example he tells them that at this age kids are particularly susceptible to give-aways and similar promotions because “the critical/logical/rational mind is not yet full developed”.

Studies commissioned by the US Surgeon General have demonstrated the failure of children under eight to understand persuasive intent. Even if they can differentiate advertisements from television programmes, (and sometimes the boundaries are blurred so that even adults don’t recognise some content as advertising), about half of them still don’t understand that the advertisements are trying to sell them something.

A study by Roy Fox, Associate Professor of English Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia, found that children watching athletes in television commercials thought that the athletes had paid to be in the advertisements to promote themselves rather than the products. They believed children in advertisements were real rather than paid actors and they often confused advertisements with news items. Generally they did not understand the commercial intent of the advertisements.

A Swedish Consumer Agency report that contributed to the decision to ban advertising to children under twelve in Sweden noted: “The results of studies that have attempted to distinguish between different degrees of understanding or levels of awareness, all indicate that it is only after the age of 12 that children develop a fuller understanding of the purpose of advertising.”

The problem with not understanding persuasive intent is that children will therefore tend to trust what the advertisement is telling them and not recognise its bias nor that it may “exaggerate, manipulate, pontificate, and cajole” in order to get them to buy their product.

Psychiatrist Susan Linn notes that even if children say they understand that advertisements can be deceptive, they can still be subject to their influence.

Moreover, advertisements often set out to deceive children. Forms of deception in advertising to children include the following:

The use of celebrities to exploit a child’s trust in authority figures.
The presentation of products to make them seem bigger than they are to exploit a child’s limited perceptive abilities.
Focusing on gifts and giveaways rather than the actual product, so that the child is not actually making judgements about the product that is being sold.
The use of jargon and complex language to take advantage of a child’s limited vocabulary.
The excessive use of emotional triggers to exploit a child’s insecurities and gullibility.

JUNK FOOD AND OBESITY

Food companies exploit the inability of such young children to understand the purpose of the advertisements and the deception inherent in them. They seek to make food of little nutritional value seem to be exciting, delicious, and fun.

Free gifts are a particularly effective way of attracting child customers. Free toys can double or triple the sales of McDonald’s meals to children. One of the most successful was the Teenie Beanie Baby which was thought to have sold 100 million Happy Meals in ten days compared with normal sales of ten million per week.

Fast food and cereal marketers often take advantage of children’s natural inclination to collect things by offering gifts in sets as collectors items. For example, when McDonalds gave toy Hummers with its happy meals as part of its “Hummer of a Summer promotion” there were 8 different Hummers to collect. When Frito-Lay offered small collector discs called Tazos free in its Doritos chip packets in 1996 it had to increase production by 40 per cent to keep up with demand.

Advertisers not only promote unhealthy foods but they create a culture where food is eaten for pleasure or fun without any need for discretion, limits or care. Often manufacturers use food additives such as colouring solely for the purpose of making it appealing and eye-catching to children. The UK Food Commission found that 75 per cent of food that contains high amounts of added fat, sugar and salt also contains ‘cosmetic additives’. These additives, including artificial colour, have been shown to increase hyperactivity in children.

Food marketing undermines the efforts of parents, teachers and doctors to teach children about healthy eating. The onslaught of advertisements for fast foods, sugary foods and salty foods encourage children to favour such foods over more healthy and natural alternatives, such as fruit and vegetables. The US Department of Agriculture claims that children get an appetite for high levels of sugar and salt in their food and drinks before they even go to school.

The food and beverage industries have denied the link between their products and weight gain in children and funded several studies to support this denial (see box below). A Yale University survey of 88 studies found that “Studies funded by the food industry simply did not find the degree of negative health effects from soft drinks that independent scholars discovered.
_____________________________________________________________

Some Denial Studies from the Food Industry

Coca-Cola was the sole sponsor of an Australian government study into children’s exercise habits. The ensuing report in 2004 claimed that it was declining physical activity that was the major cause of rising childhood obesity.

Cadbury Schweppes donated millions of dollars to the American Diabetes Association, and shortly afterwards the Association’s chief medical officer denied the link between sugar and diabetes as well as between sugar and weight gain.

Coca-Cola, donated millions of dollars to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry which now prevaricates about the link between soft drink and cavities.

In Australia McDonalds is paying the National Heart Foundation $330,000 per year in return for the Foundation’s tick of approval for nine of its meals. The foundation says the money is to reimburse its costs in testing the meals and auditing McDonalds restaurants.

A review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 and paid for by the American Beverage Association, questioned a 2001 study published in the Lancet that found that children were 1.6 times as likely to become obese with every can of sweetened drink consumed per day. Two of the authors of the review had links to the soft-drink industry.

Coca-Cola has established The Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness, to undertake scientific research and educate the public around the world about the role beverages play in nutrition and health.
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In 2002 a draft report of the Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases called for stricter marketing rules and labelling, as well as taxes on sugar-rich food marketed to children. It prompted the American Advertising Federation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the National Soft Drink Association, the Snack Food Association, the National Confectioners Association, the US Chamber of Commerce and several other industry associations to write to the US secretary of Health and Human Services to “express our concerns” that the report would harm the US food industry. The industry letter argued the report “should be substantially modified before being issued by WHO and FAO”.

The following year the Sugar Association “threatened lobbying to block WHO funding if the report was not changed.” At the behest of industry lobbyists the Bush administration opposed WHO anti-obesity initiatives behind the scenes and objected to the way the WHO identified some foods as “bad”.

Manufacturers of junk food deny that there are good and bad foods, but instead insist that all foods have their place in a ‘balanced’ diet. They nevertheless seek to achieve maximum sales of their foods. For example, McDonald’s aims for 20 visits per month per customer. In its brochure Healthy Balance, it stresses the need for “a balanced diet and regular exercise” and implies that McDonald’s can contribute to that balance:

“A typical McDonald’s meal of a Big Mac, French Fries and a Thick Shake contains foods from most of the core food groups, which are sources of riboflavin, calcium, phosphorus, thiamine, niacin, zinc, magnesium, iodine and iron…”

They also add protein and vitamins to the list. However a person would need to walk for around 5.5 hours to burn off the calories of such a meal.

Coca Cola’s Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness emphasises the importance of drinking enough fluids so as not to become dehydrated and argues that any drink suits this purpose so “there’s no need to stick to plain water if it bores you”.

The food industry also argues that achieving a balanced diet is a parental responsibility and that government regulation of junk food advertising represents the intrusion of a “nanny state” into private lives. Advertisers nevertheless seek to market direct to children, bypassing parental gatekeepers where they can, encouraging pester power to overcome parental resistance. Moreover, the UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) found that mothers “are at a loss” as to how to make a healthy diet attractive to children in the face of the barrage of marketing making junk food attractive to them.

The food industry also thwarts the exercise of parental responsibility by lobbying against food labelling regulations and other sources of nutrition information being made available to parents. It has successfully lobbied for food disparagement laws in twelve US states making it difficult for critics to point out the shortcomings of their food. Jeff Richardson, director of the Centre for Health Economics at Monash University in Australia pointed out that “food marketing was so manipulative that a central free-market principal – that people would act in their own best interests – no longer applied in relation to food consumption.”

Junk food manufacturers blame lack of exercise, rather than junk food marketing, for the rising tide of obesity and have recently been promoting exercise and associating themselves with exercise campaigns as part of their public relations efforts. Several beverage and fast food companies, such as McDonalds, have given out pedometers. Many have sought to associate themselves with exercise and sport including Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Cadbury and NestlÈ. However it is not realistic to believe that regular consumption of junk food can be counteracted with exercise as we saw with the example of the McDonalds meal.

In 2007, when the food industry was under threat of advertising regulation in the US, a group of major food companies including McDonald’s and PepsiCo agreed to voluntarily stop advertising the worst of their foods during children’s television programmes. They will not however, stop advertising these same foods during family programmes such as the enormously popular American Idol, which most children watch. Similar promises were made by Kraft in 2005 and Kellogg’s in 2007.

Advertisers also like to claim that exposing children to advertising is part of their education and enables them learn to deal with advertisements and learn critical skills. However, the evidence seems to be that those “who watch most television tend to be the most easily influenced by a given advertisement” and, in particular, younger children do not become more sceptical of advertisements, the more they see. Heavy television watchers tend to ask for the products advertised more often. Critical skills are not gained by watching more advertisements.

The above is an extract from ‘This Little Kiddy Went To Market – The Corporate Capture Of Childhood.’ (Pluto Press, 2009) by political analyst and visiting professor at the University of Wollongong, Australia, Sharon Beder.

Iain Duncan Smith Is A Sociopath

Stuart Chester has Down's syndrome, epilepsy and autism

Stuart Chester has Down’s syndrome, epilepsy and autism
WHO CAN NOW CLAIM WITH A SERIOUS FACE THAT WE LIVE IN A CIVILIZED SOCIETY?
WORDS LITERALLY FAIL ME. 

A SEVERELY disabled young man who is unable to talk, read or write and needs round-the-clock care from his mother is the latest target in Iain Duncan Smith’s campaign against Scotland’s most vulnerable.

Stuart Chester, who has Down’s syndrome, epilepsy and autism and is unable to feed or wash himself, is being told by officers in the Tory minister’s Department for Work and Pensions to prove he is unfit for work.

The 25-year-old has been sent a controversial 20-page work capability assessment form to fill in that will investigate his fitness for work and whether he deserves his Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) benefits.

Last night Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil described Stuart’s case as “absolutely outrageous” and “shameful”.

Stuart has been given a deadline of September 18 to complete the complicated and detailed document and return it to the DWP.

His mother Deborah McKenzie, 51, said receiving the form had caused her “undue stress” and said Duncan Smith’s plan to deliberately target the sick and disabled was tantamount to “genocide”, after shocking DWP figures were released last week showing more than 80 people were dying each month following work capability assessments.

She said: “Stuart gets the high-rate DLA and he was supposed to get that for life because his condition will never change. He also received ESA benefits.

“I cannot understand why he was sent this capability for work questionnaire because he cannot talk, read or write or do anything for himself. There is no way he could work and this is just causing a lot of undue stress and anxiety.

“I was really upset when the form came through the door. I called up the DWP and asked them why they would send it out to someone like my son when he is supposed to to get DLA for life and they told me it was tough luck, that it’s just the way it is and I would just need to fill out the form for him just like everyone else.

“I know other disabled people in wheelchairs with conditions like cerebral palsy, also people like Stuart who cannot do anything for them, are being harassed by the DWP to fill in fit for work forms when there is absolutely no way they could work.

“I used to have to fill in a form for my son every three years but eventually we were told he had the DLA for life because his circumstances were not going to change and he I no longer had to fill in an application for benefits for him.

“I am his full-time carer and there is no way my son could work, no chance. He needs 24/7 care and cannot feed or wash himself and he has a lot of accidents toilet-wise. I have to do everything for him.”

Neil called for the “cruel” assessments on the sick and disabled to be scrapped, and demanded that David Cameron hand over the rights to decide on benefits to the Scottish Government.

He said: “This is absolutely outrageous and these are the kind of cases which highlight that the Tories are out of control and they must hand over running of our benefits system to the Scottish Government.

“It bad enough the DWP sends out these forms to people like Stuart but they don’t seem to understand the stress and worry this causes families in Scotland.

“If someone is clearly unable to work and has a lifelong condition they should not be hounded like this and they should be left alone, not put through the hell of being assessed for work and worrying about whether or not they will get their benefits when they are quite clearly entitled to them.

“It is nothing but bullying, harassment, intimidation and a breach of human rights of the most vulnerable in our society and it has got to stop.

“They have crossed the line and if we had control over these benefits, the first thing we would put an end to this kind of harassment and treat these people with respect and dignity they deserve.”

Last week, disability campaigners spoke to The National and warned more people would die because of work capability assessments unless they were scrapped.

The claim followed the release of figures that revealed 2,380 claimants died between December 2011 and February 2014 shortly after being told to get back to work and that their benefits were being stopped.

In the same period, 50,580 people who received ESA died within two weeks of their benefit claim ending.

Stephen Cruickshank, director of the Scottish Disability Equality Forum, who has spinal neuropathy, said the work capability assessments were unfit for purpose.

Mother-of-two Deborah, of Glasgow, said Duncan Smith had “a lot to answer for” and described him as “the lowest of the low” for targeting disabled people.

She said: “I don’t know how Iain Duncan Smith can sleep at night or live with himself targeting the disabled and most vulnerable in our society like this.

“It is beyond belief and absolutely disgusting considering many of the people being sent these forms were awarded with DLA for life which we had to fight for.”

Deborah said coping with everyday life caring for Stuart was “hard and challenging” and even though she knows that he cannot work, it is the uncertainty of having to fill in the complicated form that is putting her under even more stress.

A DWP spokesman said: “We regularly review people’s conditions to ensure that they are not simply written off and condemned to a life on benefits. That’s why we have improved the work capability assessment since it was introduced in 2008, ensuring that it is fairer and more accurate.

“Decisions are taken following a thorough independent assessment, and consideration of supporting medical evidence provided to us by a claimant’s GP or medical specialist.”

“It’s important that regular assessments are made, as for some people, conditions may improve or worsen.”

Originally posted in The National