Publisher: Public Affairs
Publication date: 9/25/2012
Communications guru and author Anat Shenker-Osorio thinks progressives should say what they actually mean… go out on a limb and come out swinging for what they believe.
In her witty and instructive new book, Don’t Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense about the Economy, Shenker-Osorio reveals the profound power of metaphor to tell a more accurate and compelling narrative of the economy.
“Our language needs to change and fast. If we don’t establish and reaffirm the economy is something people made and continue to create, we’re hard-pressed to get Americans to believe it can be fixed and made better by people.”
According to Shenker-Osorio, the words we use can make us sound incoherent and incapable of articulating what we plan to do about the failings of the economy versus the more audible version from Wall Street and the conservative right.
Since 2009, the author has tracked and catalogued economic writing and speeches from across the political spectrum and conducted interviews with progressive economists.
Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan admitted he had put too much faith in the self-correcting power of free markets. Shenker-Osorio fears progressives might lose an opportunity to take back the conversation from those opposing regulation, taxes and public expenditure.
Shenker-Osorio cites Occupy Wall Street and the 99% movement as a highly credible example of controlling the message using the tools of cognition, linguistics and discourse.
Evoking strong metaphors and frames, the Occupiers have developed an agenda more ambitious than financial reform. They have poured sunshine on the idea that wealth and power and resources concentrated in too few hands is dangerous to participatory democracy.
“By unifying nearly all under the banner of the 99%, it becomes meaningful to fight for an economy that works for America.”
The language of the Occupy Wall Street movement also connects supporters to the cause, while the 1% who blame the poor become “the aberration that’s a danger to us all.”
“Shut out from the opportunities and experiences that make freedom and security possible, the vast majority of people are not suffering from lack of luck or ambition. They are at the receiving end of deliberate malfeasance.”
Shenker-Osorio insists that inequality is human-made, but seen as a ladder or pyramid or scale misses the point of agency. The metaphor of a barrier to describe inequality reveals blocked access to opportunity and resources for anyone regardless of effort or ability. Constraints impede our way forward.
“It lets us have our language lay the blame where it belongs: on the obstructions erected by decades of greed and concentrated wealth and power, not on the people who find themselves trapped on the wrong side of them.”
She argues eloquently that scarcity and competition are more economic fiction than reality.
“More true, and certainly more natural, is our need and desire to make living in close quarters work. Most of us have agreed our best shot at this is through democratically elected government, laws, social supports, and mutual respect.”
In the book, Shenker-Osorio calls for progressive policies for a modern economy: work sharing (included in the Middle Class Recovery Act), income based repayment of student loans, the right to rent (upon foreclosure for up to 5 years) and a change in the tax code to reduce inequality (corporate tax rate adjustment based on the ratio of CEO pay to the average worker).
Don’t Buy It by Anat Shenker-Osorio is a highly worthwhile read and operative’s primer for crafting persuasive messages about an economy that works for the majority of Americans.
Category: Nonfiction, Economics