Criticism of Rory Sutherland's comments about capitalism
If he's stepping out beyond advertising, there's a question to be answered.
Ostensibly, Rory Sutherland is a purveyor of popular useful ideas - which is why I’m mentioning him here.
He’s an ad-man, Vice Chairman at Ogilvy UK and self-proclaimed conservative. He’s also an entertaining anecdotalist and conversationalist. Within the marketing industry he has a useful function. For many years, he’s encouraged that sector to be more mischievous, to be more thoughtful. His talks are peppered with counter-intuitive stories about how the world really works.
His themes, broadly, are: humans are weird, irrationality is important and traditional economics is insufficient. Eye-opening stuff for the boardroom. Ruffles some feathers, but doesn’t scare the horses (in the field next to the duck pond).
In a recent interview with the influential music producer Rick Rubin, Sutherland is reaching a wider audience.
In the interview, Sutherland is more expansive than I’ve heard him before. He makes his points about reductionist mainstream economics then touches on his concerns about free market capitalism.
He outlines a “useful idea”. He says:
”What worries me about free market capitalism is that economists and management consultants like it for entirely the wrong reason… I would argue that most of the appreciation of capitalism is driven by the idea of its efficiency, not its inventiveness… What we should have been doing is optimising capitalism for inventiveness.”
“It's exactly that point about I make about capitalism, which is that we've been encouraged to view it as an efficiency mechanism where it's really an exploration mechanism.”
But. Rubin doesn’t ask: “Rory, why is capitalism being driven by the idea of its efficiency, not its inventiveness?”
Maybe I’ve missed it, but nobody ever seems to ask Sutherland why capitalist efficiency is being prized over inventiveness. Sutherland’s statements are just accepted. And it slightly irritates me.
What would happen if conservative Rory did join the dots?
Would he conclude that the idea of capitalist efficiency is politically expedient for the rich and powerful (when expressed as austerity, for example), as it helps to maintain inequality, social hierarchy, social control and elite status quo?
That a capitalist system that emphasised inventiveness is not broadly encouraged as it might lead to more social mobility?
Perhaps we’ll never know.
Update - something peculiar happened
This is self indulgent - but something peculiar (in my opinion) happened after I wrote this mildly critical newsletter about Rory Sutherland’s comments about capitalism. I think it’s worth noting here in case something similar has happened before in relation to Mr Sutherland.
This note - the page you are reading - became the first from this newsletter to vanish / be removed from the Google search engine.
I will spare you my SEO explanations. But: The page you are reading now was ranked top of Google search for the query “Criticism of Rory Sutherland” then it became unavailable via Google search (which is what the screengrab shows) - for approx. 7 days. And currently, Google will (only?) display the title listing if you wrap it in speech marks; “Criticism of Rory Sutherland”.
The page you are reading is currently well hidden from anyone searching for Criticism of Rory Sutherland.
If this note was removed from Google under Europe’s data protection laws, it prompts all kinds of questions. Why was it removed? Who removed it? Why is it difficult to find negative criticism of Mr Sutherland’s views via Google?
Update 2 - the plot slightly thickens
A few days later I was getting itchy about the question: “Why is it difficult to find negative criticism of Mr Sutherland’s views via Google?”
Again I googled: Criticism of Rory Sutherland. Then I kept scrolling. Most of the links are positive reports - nothing investigative. Keep scrolling. Get to link 67.
Link 67 is a website called TobaccoTactics. It “is produced by the Tobacco Control Research Group in the Department for Health at the University of Bath and is overseen by managing editor Dr. Raouf Alebshehy. TobaccoTactics has a policy of strict referencing.”
The website has a page on Rory Sutherland, it says: “Sutherland is one of the founding members of the The Common Sense Alliance, a lobby group for the tobacco industry.” The Common Sense Alliance was funded by British American Tobacco.
Which is all very interesting. But I don’t have enough evidence to reach any conclusions.
I’ll now point you to this article: The Corporate PR Industry's Sneaky War on Internet Activism. Which includes this:
“Lobbying firms are in the search engine optimization business too. They will create phony blogs for clients that are made to appear as if they've been created by outsiders. Press releases that no journalist will ever see are pumped out just so there’s something else to read on Google when a client faces hostility.”
“Of course we do it as well,” said Tim Bell, the head of PR firm Bell Pottinger and a master at killing stories, in interview. “Everybody wants the best information to appear at the top of the page.”
I’ve changed the title of this post from ‘Criticism of Rory Sutherland’ to ‘Criticism of Rory Sutherland's comments about capitalism’. Perhaps this will allow Google to make it more visible.
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