Thursday, 27 November 2008

Cost of everything

Of all the PR tropes that make "churnalism" such an easy option for hacks, one above all gets my goat. The meaningless survey is almost boilerplate; the "scientific formula" that defines sexy armpits is admittedly ludicrous; nothing could be a greater insult to our collective sense of worth than the dread phrase "X costs British business £N Million every year".

The reduction of every human deed, word or thought to its tendentious and notional effect on some mythical bottom line has become so commonplace that the sheer horror of the notion seems to be overlooked. I still cling, futile and ill-founded though it be, to the notion that I have some innate value to the world above and beyond my ability to maintain an acceptable level of profit for shareholders. It may yet prove that my role on this wretched, ailing planet is neither measured nor defined by the hours I spend at work; that the span of my life has not, in fact, been allotted wholesale to the need for economic growth.

And yet it seems that no issue, from office politics to airport waiting time, can be adequately or sensibly discussed without recourse to some abstruse and flawed calculus, the assumptions of which are offensive (that my time belongs wholly to my employer); simplistic to the extreme (that every minute has equal value); and utterly unrealistic (that ceasing to do X necessarily means I will start doing Y). But even if this arithmetic actually meant anything, there is something borderline sociopathic about arguing, for example, that the reason to not keep workers in "cramped, dismal conditions" is because it costs money. (PDF). How about treating your workers like human beings simply because you're not a complete shit?

This trend has now reached what I can only hope is its nadir. Baroness Scotland has put a cost on domestic violence: £2.7 bn. Well, in that case, we should probably do something about it. Up till now, I was on the fence about domestic abuse. I mean sure, it's "bad" and so forth, but is it really economical to do anything? What exactly is my motivation here? What's the return on my hard-earned tax? I mean, yes, if we could, say, reduce wife-battering by 50% by spending a chunk of cash there'd be fewer bruised, battered women living in a permanent state of fear - but what's that worth?

Well, now we presumably know. We should spend up to £2.7bn fighting domestic abuse. Any women (or men) whom that doesn't help should understand that it's not that we don't care - it's just not economical.

(To be fair to Baroness Scotland - maybe she's right to make her case this way. Maybe the best or only way to persuade government and business that it might be worthwhile to stop domestic violence is to frame it as a profit and loss argument. In which case, it might be time to go a bit Tyler Durden.)

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