A Branding Problem

by Logan Albright
Nov. 08, 2013

Actor/comedian Russell Brand has done what almost all actor/comedians eventually do, having turned momentarily from entertainment to express his opinions about politics. As you might expect, Brand is a committed leftist, railing against capitalism, "the rich," and all the other usual Hollywood boogeymen. However, what makes Brand's case an interesting one is the language that he uses to express his views, language that leads me to  believe that maybe there is more common ground between us than one might assume.

Consider the following extracts from the lengthy opinion piece he penned for The Guardian:

"As long as the priorities of those in government remain the interests of big business, rather than the people they were elected to serve, the impact of voting is negligible and it is our responsibility to be more active if we want real change."

"The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change. I don’t think it does. I fervently believe that we deserve more from our democratic system than the few derisory tit-bits tossed from the carousel of the mighty, when they hop a few inches left or right. The lazily duplicitous servants of The City expect us to gratefully participate in what amounts to little more than a political hokey cokey where every four years we get to choose what colour tie the liar who leads us wears."

"The reason these coalitions are so easily achieved is that the distinctions between the parties are insignificant. My friend went to a posh “do” in the country where David Cameron, a man whose face resembles a little painted egg, was in attendance. Also present were members of the opposition and former prime minister Tony Blair. Whatever party they claim to represent in the day, at night they show their true colours and all go to the same party."

"The reason not voting could be effective is that if we starve them of our consent we could force them to acknowledge that they operate on behalf of The City and Wall Street; that the financing of political parties and lobbying is where the true influence lies; not in the ballot box."

"The US government gave a trillion dollars to bail out the big five banks over the past year. Banks that have grown by 30% since the crisis and are experiencing record profits and giving their execs record bonuses. How about, hang on to your hats because here comes a naïve suggestion, don’t give them that money[.]"

Britishisms like "posh" aside, these could have been written by any member of the American Tea Party, and yet Brand still mistakenly thinks that capitalism is the problem and government is the solution.

The reason is that Russell Brand is among a large class of young, largely ignorant people who have the right instincts but have a profound misunderstanding of the causes of the problems they rail against. That they are ignorant is understandable, and I do not mean to use the term in a derogatory way. They are bombarded with misinformation day in and day out. I can only imagine what it is like in liberal Britain's entertainment industry, in which Brand has been insulated for many years now.

The important point is that we want, or at least claim to want, largely the same things. We want an end to bailouts, an end to cronyism, an end to perpetual wars, and a democratic process where voters are offered a real choice rather than the carbon copy political parties we have now. The difference is that Brand and his ilk believe that these goals can be achieved by more government, more regulations and more restrictions on our freedoms.

The corruption of corporatism is unavoidable in a government that has the power to hand out other people's money. A government that is empowered to spend taxpayer money to help the poor is equally empowered to spend that money on bailouts and corporate subsidies, and political self-interest will dictate that even the most vocally progressive of politicians will do so ninety-nine times out of a hundred.

If liberals and progressives really believe the things they say they do, then there should be considerable opportunity to persuade them of the virtues of libertarianism. Unfortunately, their continued  loyalty to a president who is demonstrably pro-war and pro-corporate cronyism casts this last proposition into considerable doubt.
Logan Albright is a writer and economist in Washington, DC.

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