“The New Industrial State” – a perspective on media and corporate planning

“But there remain more general sources of conflict between the educational and scientific estate and the technostructure. One is the management of individual behaviour.

In the absence of a clear view of the nature of this conflict, much of the dispute centres not on its ultimate causes but on the techniques of management. Management requires extensive access to means of communication – newspapers, billboards, radio and especially television. To ensure attention these media must be raucous and dissonant. It is also of the utmost importance that this effort convey an impression, however meretricious, of the importance of the goods being sold. The market for soap can only be managed if the attention of consumers is captured for what, otherwise, is a rather incidental artifact. Accordingly, the smell of soap, the texture of its suds, the whiteness of textiles treated thereby and the resulting esteem and prestige in the neighbourhood are held to be of highest moment. Housewives are imagined to discuss such matters with an intensity otherwise reserved for unwanted pregnancy and nuclear war. Similarly with cigarettes, laxatives, pain-killers, beer, automobiles, dentifrices, packaged foods and all other significant consumer products.

The educational and scientific estate and the larger intellectual community tend to view this effort with disdain. The technostructure, sensing this but aware also of the vital importance of the management of demand, reacts defensively and with earnest protestations of its importance for the health and survival of the economic system. Its case is closer to the truth than is commonly imagined.

Thus the paradox. The economy for its success requires organized public bamboozlement. At the same time it nurtures a growing class which feels itself superior to such bamboozlement and deplores it as intellectually corrupt. The subculture which requires such obfuscation for its existence can only be regarded with disdain. That culture responds with a sense of hurt and guilt and the indignation which comes from the knowledge that its needs sustain and nourish its academic critics.

This conflict, in one form or another, is inevitable with planning. That requires that the needs of the producing mechanism take precedence over the freely expressed will of the individual. This will always invite the disaffection of the individual. In the Soviet-type economies the resentment is expressed against the state and the heavy and visible apparatus by which it exercises control over the individual. Under non-Soviet planning it is expressed against the techniques and instruments – advertising and the mass communication which carry it – by which the individual is managed. Curiously, in neither society does the attack centre on the planning which is the deeper cause.”

– John Kenneth Galbraith, from “The New Industrial State,” 1967.