Who Are the Predators?

The leader of Britain’s political opposition, Ed Miliband, now talks of the conflict between “predators” and “producers”. At a press conference he was repeatedly challenged to elaborate on the meaning of those words. He failed to give definitions: an example of why government policy-making is in chaos – not just in the UK, but in every country in the world today.

Miliband’s speech at his party’s conference was startling for the language he used to castigate certain forms of economic behaviour. This was the first time a mainstream politician had spoken of predators. I had used the word in the title of my book – The Predator Culture – published last year. I offer a precise definition, contrasting predators with the producers who add value to the economy. The predators are those who extract value, without offering an equal value in return.

Why do sharp definitions matter? Because analysis of problems, and the formulation of solutions, rests on precision of language. If Miliband aspires to be something more than a hectoring demagogue in these time of mass anxiety, he needs to be forensic in his approach to communicating with people who are losing homes and jobs.

His Labour Party was responsible for allowing Britain to drive itself into debt and the boom/bust tragedy that has sunk the economy into the worst depression since the 1930s. It ill behoves him and his economic spokesman, Ed Balls, to criticise the government when they are not able to add any wisdom to the problem of governance in these times of crisis.

The Rent Seekers

I use the notion of predators to identify people who are living off the backs of other people. Yes, that includes the bonus grabbing bankers who manipulated mortgages. It includes corporate bosses who seek protection from the state to generate super profits. But the main predators are those of us who own land. We joyfully pocket our capital gains as if we had earned this value. We didn’t: it cascades as if it were manna from heaven.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters around the world are also using vague language to vent their anger. Banks are their main bêtte noir. They castigate “capitalism” – ignoring the fact that the market economy is not to blame. The fault lies with politicians like Ed Miliband, who do not take the trouble to trace the world’s problems to their root causes.

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