Monday, 24 June 2013

“Social”, the world’s most over-used left-wing weasel-word, gets yet another outing

One of my greatest intellectual heroes, the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, wrote about the misuse of the word “social” in a chapter entitled “Our Poisoned Language” in his book, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, published in 1988, where he identifies it as the main political weasel-word of our times.

After tracing its origins to 19th century Bismarckian Germany, when the soft-centred phrase ‘social policy’ replaced the hard-core concept of ‘political economy’, Hayek goes on to describe its current ubiquitous use as an all-purpose adjective which signals moral approval while draining all meaning from any noun to which it is attached: 
“…it has increasingly been turned into an exhortation, a sort of guide-word for rationalist morals intended to replace traditional morals, and now increasingly supplants the word ‘good’ as a designation of what is morally right."
Hayek then lists over 160 nouns to which “social” is now routinely attached, starting with accounting, action and adjustment and ending with work, worker and world.

I encountered a new one in the paper this morning. Apparently, social security is now known as “social protection”. Classic! You see, the phrase “social security” has lost its warm, fuzzy halo of niceness, and now reminds most people of our semi-criminal underclass and immigrants signing up for benefits the moment they arrive here. Can’t allow that, so out goes “security” and in comes “protection”, allowing us to go back to feeling really good about spending £220 billion a year we don’t have on the basis that  society (i.e. the state) is somehow being kept safe by politicians maxing out the national credit card.

The Jeff Randall article in which I learned of this new assault on our language to enable the political class to cling on to power by refusing to face up to reality, is available here.

How someone as politically sound as Randall managed to stick four years as the BBC's Business Editor  is a bit of a mystery (he’s now at Sky) – but it’s probably because he worked with an excellent, equally sensible producer, who just happens to be a friend of mine.

The Fatal Error is available here

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