The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: “Drizzle” on the Economy

Comparing the idea of “trickle” and “drizzle” helps to understand the contrast between the rival economic cultures.

Western economic ideology — when it isn’t a theology — has long promoted the metaphor of “trickle-down” to justify the situation we have arrived at today, where income growth is concentrated on the those who already have too much, the same ones George W. Bush once called the “have mores.” The ideology relies on the belief that the richer the rich get, the more will trickle down to the masses.

China is still officially a communist country. We know that because the unique party governing it is called the Communist Party. But there are a lot of rich, even very rich, people in China, with the profile of capitalists. The difference between China and the West — where there are also a lot of rich people — is that in China the government calls the shots (in the West corporations do… they even collectively run the government) and can thereby influence and even control some of the trickle.

This has led to another, much more sensually pleasing metaphor for how others — especially outside China — benefit from the top-down spread of riches. Bloomberg quotes Michael Every, head of financial markets research for Rabobank Group in Hong Kong, who described President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative as “a political special sauce. … If you drizzle it on anything, it tastes better.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Drizzle:

A gastronomic serving technique converted by the Chinese government into a form of highly persuasive diplomacy 

Contextual note

Comparing the idea of “trickle” and “drizzle” helps to understand the contrast between the rival economic cultures. The word trickle suggests an annoying natural phenomenon, which we accept because it is the nature of water to trickle through cracks and crevices it finds. Drizzle in its culinary sense designates a deliberate, conscious and creative act aimed at enhancing the look and taste of an artfully prepared dish.

The theoreticians of the Western economy want us to believe in the “natural laws” of the economy, as if the economy could — or rather should — exist and function without human beings having a power of decision over its workings. We count on Adam Smith’s invisible hand to take care of the trickling. This denies reality, in which governments and multinational corporations organize and manipulate the various levers of the economy they alone know how to handle — from currency exchange to military and industrial investment, as well as the economic and political mechanisms for the exploitation of resources throughout the rest of the world.

When he used the drizzling metaphor, Every was highlighting just how deliberately manipulative President Xi’s approach is meant to be, while suggesting that the secret of its effectiveness is that it focuses on creating a great gustatory experience.

Historical note

Two contrasting trends are competing for hegemony in the world today. The US continues to rely on war, military intimidation, aggressive economic sanctions and, more recently, escalating trade wars. China, while reinforcing its military presence in a strategic periphery, has founded its approach on the collaborative building of infrastructure building and offering a helping hand to the weaker economies. The Chinese may well have borrowed this concept from the unquestionably successful Marshall Plan that set the entire Western world back on its feet after World War II.

It’s worth noticing, historically, that post-war Asia profited only indirectly from the success of the Marshall Plan, principally in Japan. The consequent gap between Asia and the West, accompanied by the rapidly evolving financialization of the economy, fueled the trend toward globalization and the transfer of traditional manufacturing to Asia.

Over the past 70 years, the center of gravity of the global economy has, with increasing speed, shifted away from the north Atlantic toward Central Asia. It may not be a coincidence that that center of gravity achieved its furthest Western drift — placing it smack in the middle of the north Atlantic — in 1950, at the time when the Marshall Plan was in full bloom and NATO and Bretton Woods were set up as the essential pillars of a new (Western) world order.

In a lucid article in The Guardian tracing the history of the somewhat overrated politico-cultural notion of “Atlanticism,” whose demise many are lamenting, Madeleine Schwartz cuts to the chase with this insight: “Lurking underneath the turbulent Atlantic waters lies nostalgia for American power and the idea that a few well-educated men could ensure world security.”

In the age of Donald Trump, a tempest of tension and conflict has ruined the 70-year-old picnic. Could it be the effect of much-denied climate change? A drizzle would have done far less damage.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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Author: Peter Isackson