George Walford: Signs and Indications

Quaker Oats put up a sign weighing twelve tons on the cliffs of Dover, somebody else erected a hoarding that blocked out the view of St. Paul’s from Ludgate Circus, another firm wanted to build one along the open side of Princes Street, hiding the Castle. They were driven by the logic of commercial competition, each of them explaining that if they did not do it somebody else would. Such things tempt one to condemn competition, to think that only by installing co-operation in its place can the¬†environment be protected and the great majority assured of a fully human life.

But Dover, Ludgate Circus and Princes Street are not now desecrated by giant hoardings. The logic of competition has been overridden by the logic of politics; enough people have advocated restrictions, and done so vigorously enough, to make it advantageous for the politicians to impose them.

In the same way, industry is being forced to spend vast amounts on defining up pollution which a few years ago would have been ignored. Since Engels investigated the state of the working class hours have been reduced, standards of living raised and conditions improved, and there is no reason to believe the limits have been reached. Although powerful, the logic of commercial competition is not omnipotent; Marx himself declared that there is no upper limit to wages and no lower limit to profits, and there is nothing in Marxism to show that exploitation cannot be reduced close to the vanishing point, where it would have only academic importance.

So far as “economic laws” go it can be done. Whether it will be done or not depends upon the ideas, beliefs, assumptions, values, preferences, in a word the ideology, of the great numbers of people concerned.

from Ideological Commentary 43, January 1990.