"If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics." With these words, Joe Stalin showed an understanding of one of the tricks of wielding power; you must ensure that the effects of your policies are seen only as abstractions rather than as the suffering of real people. It's a trick our rulers are pulling off now.
I say this because, as Simon points out, the government's cuts to spending on flood defences might well have had a massive human cost insofar as they have exacerbated the floods. And yet Osborne has gotten away with presenting austerity as being prudent and responsible. He's pulled off this trick because cuts are seen as mere statistical abstractions, rather than policies with real effects. As Steve Richards says:
public spending cuts are welcomed in general, but when anyone bothers to pay attention to the specifics, alarm bells ring.
But it's not just in flood defences that the Tories perform this trick. Frances describes how benefit sanctions are causing terrible hardship. But again, the Tories aren't called out sufficiently on this by the MSM, as welfare policy is presented in abstract terms as a clampdown on often-mythical scroungers.
It's not just politicians that use Stalin's trick of replacing human reality with abstract statistics. Bosses do the same thing. In their wonderful Managing Britannia, Robert Protherough and John Pick describe how modern management:
deals largely in symbols and abstractions...[with] little direct contact with the organization's workers, with the production of its goods or services, or with its customers.
This explains why bosses' pay has continued to rise despite a long-term stagnation in both labour productivity and shareholder returns, and why Lin Homer has been given a damehood despite her serial mismanagement: it's because managers are no longer judged by real effects.
So, how can bosses and politicians pull off Stalin's trick?
One way is simply that people don't make connections.As David Leiser and Zeev Kril have written:
People are remarkably poor at combining causal links into a system [and] are ill-equipped to cope with the aggregate effects of the individual decisions of many people...Thinking in terms of how an interlocking system of causal links produces an emergent outcome does not come naturally to laypeople.
Journalists, with their silo mentality, rarely help them. Political reporters rarely stray outside the Westminster Bubble and so the Chancellor's "prudence" can be discussed without reference to its human effects.
A second help comes from the inequality of voice. Victims of benefit sanctions have little chance to speak for themselves, and few speak for them: Kate Belgrave being a great exception. But on the other hand, our celebrity-obsessed, billionaire-owned media act as a megaphone for the wealthy, with the result that even the mildest proposed tax rises provoke a frenzy of narcissistic whingeing whilst any challenges to the country's greatest criminal conspiracy are met with whines about "banker-bashing".
I've said it before, and I'll repeat it. The Cold War did not defeat Stalinism. Quite the opposite. The Stalinists won, and are ruling us.