Thursday, July 16, 2009

Liberal Vision - missing the point on Government advertising

£179.7 million, spent by the Government on advertising. Obviously, classical liberals see this as an outrage - taxpayers having to foot the bill for Government propaganda.

Actually, classical liberals believe that people should have access to the information that allows them to take control of their lives. Libertarians believe that government should be minimalist and, for the most part, non-intrusive. Nothing wrong with either stance, the latter taking a stronger line in terms of personal responsibility, but perhaps less mindful of the needs of those less well-equipped to take care of themselves.

Most Government advertising is designed to impart information, about changes in tax law, for example, or new entitlements such as the Child Trust Fund. You might not like the legislation, and in many cases, most liberals have doubts, but the idea that the public should not be told hardly strikes me as a liberal one.

Now I am hardly stupid enough to claim that the whole £179.7 million is spent effectively - anyone who knows how media buying works will tell you that you can only use the available data and personal experience gleaned over time to make the best call on the use of spend - but to describe it as 'propaganda' is lazy and, to be blunt, misleading.

I'll offer up an example of a recent advertising campaign that, to my mind, is reasonable, justified and not propaganda. There are plenty that I could offer, but I'll settle for this one. The penalty regime for limited companies has recently been toughened up, and the points at which penalties are levied have been brought forward.

So, Companies House ran a poster campaign warning people that they were doing so. There are now millions of company directors in this country, following Government efforts to encourage enterprise. Many of them are one-man operations, and could well do without having to pay such penalties. Warning them encourages them to comply with the requirements of company law - good for the consumer, good for honest traders - and makes it less likely that they will be penalised.

Of course, it could be argued that the guidance notes provide with company returns could be used to impart this information. Unfortunately, in my experience, people seldom read the guidance notes, and then are deeply unhappy when the result of their oversight is explained to them. Therefore, a range of communication tools, including advertising, works.

Liberal Vision like to claim that they are the true champions of classical liberalism, implying that the rest of us aren't sufficiently liberal. In this instance, they demonstrate that they are the champions of classical knee-jerk reactionism, and I'm delighted to differ from them in this instance.


Tristan said...

They shouldn't need to advertise all that - its only because they like to change around the rules that its needed. Why not keep a simple tax system?

The other thing is the adverts I've seen, aside from the annual 'give us your money or else' ones are all hectoring 'lifestyle' advertisements. That is something to object to.

For some reason, using stolen money to advertise how they're going to steal our money. Then again, I'm not a 'classical liberal', except perhaps in the sense Molinari was...

Mark Valladares said...


I fear you miss my point. The money is spent as an inevitable result of Government policy, because we have a right to know. You and I are on common ground in our wish that this Government didn't tinker with our laws to the extent that they do. But they do.

So attack the Government on policy grounds all you like. The advertising spend is a consequence of their perpetual motion. But the notion that the Government should do these things and then not tell us about it is taking the argument against government spending to a new height of absurdity.

In short, stop them legislating and you stop the need to advertise.

On the 'classical liberal' label, the way it is expressed implies that there was some gold standard of liberalism. It's a political philosophy, not an exact science. And to have a bunch of self-appointed worthies claim to carry its torch successfully finds that crack in my sense of courtesy and tolerance where I have to say, "Enough. I will not have anyone define themselves as philosophically more pure than I am on a measure of their own choosing.". Such people do liberalism no favours.

Oranjepan said...

There is an irony that the libertarian vocally opposes state intrusion, but is less overtly concerned about corporate intrusion.

Commerce places an advertising premium on all branded products, which is essentially a tax without accountability - where is the outrage on other forms of marketing communications and the funding mechanisms used to pay for them?