It's not often that Sir Tom Jones provides evidence to support Mariana Mazzucato, but he's done just this.
Here's the FT's John Thornhill:
As Mazzucato explains it, the traditional way of framing the debate about wealth creation is to picture the private sector as a magnificent lion caged by the public sector. Remove the bars, and the lion roams and roars. In fact, she argues, private sector companies are rarely lions; far more often they are kittens. Managers tend to be more concerned with cutting costs, buying back their shares and maximising their share prices (and stock options) than they are in investing in research and development and boosting long-term growth.
“As soon as I started looking at these issues, I started realising how much language matters" [she says].
Coincidentally, Sir Tom complains that he was sacked from The Voice with "no conversation of any kind" - implying that BBC bosses lacked the courage to tell him to his face.
In their different ways Sir Tom and Mariana are challenging the dominant image of bosses. Far from being the swashbuckling risk-taking entrepreneurial dragons they pretend to be, bosses are often cowards who lack the courage to defend their decisions or to invest and innovate.
In fact the biggest risk-bearers are often not bosses at all, but workers. It is they who invest all or most of their biggest asset (their human capital) into a single venture. And as we saw with the collapse of City Link, small sub-contractors who are unsecured creditors can lose more than bosses do.
By contrast, bosses are often mere bureaucrats. We have long passed the point which Schumpeter described in 1942, in which the entrepreneur "is becoming just another office worker."
Now, in itself this is not necessarily a bad thing. What looks like cowardice might in fact be a rational, prudent realization that investment and innovation don't pay. And a lot of entrepreneurship is in fact a spunking away of redundancy money on doomed ventures.
What I am saying, though, is that the rhetoric of capitalism should be inverted. Bosses are not heroic risk-takers, but mere pen-pushers.
In fact, that rhetoric must also be inverted in two other ways.
First, although the right likes to paint Marxists as Stalinists and central planners, the opposite is in fact that case. It is bosses who still believe in the out-dated and discredited dogma of central planning whilst many of us leftists believe in the virtues of decentralized decision-making.
Secondly, there's a tendency to see the dichotomy between the centre and the left as synonymous with that between technocrats and idealistic dreamers. But I would argue that the opposite is the case. It is centrists who are utopians, in that they grossly over-estimate the ability of the state to improve well-being in a capitalist society. And as we heard in that notorious Jack Straw interview, centrists can be far too stupid to be technocrats.
My point here is a simple one. Inequalities are legitimated in part by an ideology which presents bosses as heroic, forward-looking wealth-creators and their opponents as dreamers and ideologues. This turns the truth on its head.The left should make more effort to reframe our language accordingly*.
You might think that, in saying this, I'm making a Marxian point. Maybe. But it was Adam Smith who complained that "We frequently the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous"**. I'm just suggesting we lean against this bias.
* Trades unions often exacerbate the problem. The rhetoric of "demands" presents workers as people who want to take something out of the system when the truth is the exact opposite - that workers are essential suppliers.
** Theory of Moral Sentiments, I.III.29