Odds and sods – part 3

Rewards for political grandstanding

 An April 2023 article in PNAS looks at whether there are any rewards in political grandstanding. It’s based on analysis of US legislators and whether grandstanding designed to gain electoral rewards works or not.

Grandstanding usually takes the form of avoiding policy and focussing on political and symbolic statements in speeches. Increasing polarisation accentuates this behaviour. It is designed to shore up support and win votes…and guess what – it does.

The authors find: “Previous studies assumed or argued that they do in an expectation of gaining more votes in the following election, but this claim has not been studied systematically.”

“US House of representatives who made statements conveying political messages more intensely in any given two-year term tended to gain higher vote shares in the following election.”

The Guardian and slavery

 The Guardian has done an exemplary job of confronting the role of slavery in funding its establishment.

For all the Tory jokes about Guardian readers it is still a great newspaper and has adapted to the problems facing media fairly well.

A truth telling exercise was launched by the editor in chief, Katharine Viner, and in  the first of a series of articles on the issue she wrote: “It is a deeply uneasy feeling to know that one of predecessors, John Edward Taylor, and almost all of his financiers, derived much of their wealth from Manchester’s cotton industry: an industry that relied on cotton plantations in the Americans that forcibly enslaved millions of Black people forcibly transported from Africa. The great American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass made the connection plain: ‘the price of human flesh on the Mississippi was regulated by the price of cotton in Manchester.’”

The Scott Trust published a Legacies of Enslavement report which detailed all the connections and their horrifying consequences. Other organisations have been making similar confessions over the years and many historians argue that profits from slavery kickstarted the British Industrial revolution. It has been a contentious claim – less because of its validity and more because of its potential for the embarrassment of people such as former PM, David Cameron, whose family benefitted from the profits of slavery as did many British institutions.

One of the ironies of all this is that The Guardian was established following the Peterloo massacre on 16 August 1819 at St Peter’s Field Manchester when peaceful pro-democracy reformers were attacked and 18 people were killed about more than 700 injured.

Robert Poole, Professor of History at the University of Central Lancashire has written a book about the massacre – Peterloo the English Uprising – which is a compelling read.

How bright are senior managers?

 We are regularly told that the massive salaries paid to various business leaders are a reward for their intelligence, hard work, strategic brilliance and demanding responsibilities.

In a paper in the European Sociological Review (28/1/23) three scholars look at the plateauing of cognitive ability among top earners.

They say: “Scholars of cultural consecration and commemoration document how the most successful members of our society are commonly attributed exceptional talents in commentaries, biographies and hall of fame elections.

The authors say: “We draw on a Swedish register data containing measures of cognitive and Labour-market success for 59,000 men who took a compulsory military conscription test…. We find that the relationship between ability and wage is strong overall but above 60,000 Euros ability plateaus…The top 1 percent even score slightly worse on cognitive ability than those in the income strata right below them. We observe a similar but less pronounced plateauing of ability and high occupational prestige.”

So, if you happen to think your boss is an idiot you are probably sort of right.

…and when you get asked by him, her or they to work harder the Scientific American has published a report on a 2022 UK four day workweek test that ran for six months and included 61 companies with a combined workforce of about 2,900 employees.

The result – working four days instead of five with the same pay – leads to improved well-being among employees without damaging productivity.

The coronation

 Albo might have been at the coronation – after all the poor bloke hasn’t got any choice being on a hiding to nothing whether he goes or not.

But some recent YouGov UK research shows some interesting light on attitudes there. It was commissioned by Republic, a UK republican campaigner (yes there is a republican movement there) which found a slight majority of the 2002 adults surveyed were not very interested at all or not very interested in Charles III’s coronation.

A majority – 73% – believe the royals should pay for some or all of the coronation with 37% saying they should pay for the lot and 36% saying the royals should pay for the procession and ceremony while the UK Government should fund police and security.

Anti-Woke ideologues

Anti woke activists are campaigning against what they call woke business. It’s been exemplified by the attacks on Silicon Valley Bank which was accused of failing because it was too woke.

Some of the claims supporting this theory are just plain false and the realities of the bank’s problems were the same as those of other banks who failed down the centuries.

The doyen of commentators on all matters public relations, Paul Holmes, made a call in the March edition of his regular newsletter for the PR industry to defend business against anti-work ideologies.

The Wall Street Journal columnist Andy Kessler pointed to the SVB board diversity including ‘1 Black, 1 LBGTQ+ and 2 veterans.

Holmes said Kessler followed this up with the ‘only asking questions’ formulation designed to make baseless speculation seem legitimate saying “I’m not saying 12 white men would have avoided this mess but the company may have been distracted by diversity demands.”

Holmes made the case that PR practitioners need to be in the forefront of defending ESG, DEI and other stakeholder-focussed initiatives as strategic business priorities and not just gratuitous corporate altruism.

“That may be challenging, for a couple of reasons. First because PR people and the companies they work for have spent years talking about corporate social responsibility as an indicator of corporate virtues rather than as simple good business – often as a response to critics on the left, who found the business case for CSR to be cynical and self-serving when in reality the value of CSR lies in the fact that it is, in fact, entirely self-serving,” Holmes said.

…and a lesson for all attitudinal researchers

 How you ask the question is a big determinant of the answer you get in attitudinal research. Clearly that is exemplified by push polling but it is also true of perfectly straightforward research.

The March 29023 AP-NORC Center Poll, conducted with Associated Press and University of Chicago funding, interviewed 1,081 adults on US Government spending.

The survey initially asked respondents, if they had to choose, would they prefer smaller government providing fewer services of bigger government providing more services?  When the question was asked in that order the majority supported the first option. When the order was reversed the results were reversed.

The sample was also asked whether they thought the US government was spending too much too little more the right amount on a variety of things – from space exploration and health care to scientific research to border security and the military.

Depending on whether they were asked first if they thought it was too much, or first if it was too little. the results were generally reversed. Not quite agreement set response but certainly close.

So, when you see the results of a survey by a company, a government, a media outlet or an organisation – have a close look at the question asked. Then ask the most significant question about surveys or any form of statement or argument – Cui bono?

Some good news about religion in the US

 It is probably hard to believe but it seems Christianity in the US is in decline. It’s a slow process though and, according to a report in The Economist (22/4) the Pew Research Centre has found a majority of mainline Christians are over 50 and one third are older than 65. Only about one in 10 are under the age of 30.

However, there are also other concrete signs. Thousands of churches are closing and whereas 90% of Americans called themselves Christian in 1972 now it’s just 64%.

The mainstream churches are suffering most – not a single mainline Protestant church gained new members in the past decade – although evangelicals are doing better. Catholics say their numbers are growing but the States with the highest share of Catholics have seen the biggest drop in religious adherence – perfectly logical given the scandals which have hit the Church.

Overall Pew projects that by 2055 non-religious could become the dominant group in US society. A long wait but an idea which once would have been unimaginable.