|Sir Robert Walpole - from Wikipedia|
Often we have to use certain words and phrases simply because they are in common use and we must make the best of them if we wish to be understood.
When we speak of modern government and the way it uses the power of our money to get its way, we are often speaking of a form of bribery, even though bribery isn’t the word we commonly see in the media. Funding is a far more common word. Even investment is pressed into service.
Of course those in power have always used bribery in one way or another. Sir Robert Walpole was widely suspected of using bribery to retain power, which is scarcely surprising as the electoral system was effectively based on bribery anyway.
However, we have to move on to modern times to see the full flowering of government by bribery. The whole state has become a gargantuan machine for the distribution of largesse as its primary tool for wielding influence. Laws and regulations have their place too of course, but bribery is the big one. Yet today we tend not to use the word bribery in this context, unlike Sir Robert Walpole’s day when language was often more direct than our peculiarly genteel age.
Now we have massive, super-complex networks of back-scratching, favour-trading and the indirect sale of sinecures conducted away from the common view. So involved and extensive is this kind of subtle bidirectional bribery that most of it goes unnoticed. After all, life has to be lived.
Okay, let’s take a concrete example to set the scene. NHS doctors are paid huge salaries not to rock the healthcare boat and point out its deficiencies. In return they get a medical practice where their medical skills and rapport with their patients are of no real significance. That could be usefully described as bribery. Why usefully? Because the word bribery brings out an aspect of the situation which should not be left to lie fallow.
How about passive smoking and other health issues? Of course that’s an easy one. The state creates fake charities bribed by their very nature to churn out policy-based evidence where an evidence-based policy isn’t on the table.
Academia is another, more subtle and diffuse example of widespread bribery. Key official interests such as diversity and equality pervade academia such that academics who embrace official political norms are more likely to thrive than those who don’t. However, this is a murky and complex area because there are exceptions, but there is still good reason to think that numerous academics have effectively been bribed with their own careers. Climate science is the obvious example.
Parents and children. This is another obvious one. Increase exam pass-rates, increase the number of university degrees and you bribe millions with their own education and the education of their children. What’s the return? A contribution to passive stability which is what modern government is all about.
How about a more complex one to lob into the mix? Consumer culture is little more than Juvenal’s bread and circuses – bribe the citizens to get on with their own little lives. The modern twist is to promote everything as an aspect of consumption from lifestyles to careers to relationships.
From consumer culture we get a politically isolated life with its ersatz excitements, so the state maintains its grip on entertained and largely uncaring citizens. Uncaring but not unaware because that’s the real essence of bribery – both parties commit to it Bribery has become endemic because too many of us look the other way. Make bribery pervasive enough and it becomes a culture.