That’s the power of a good metaphor.
Trickling down instantly implies rain filtering through rocks or rivers or such like. The indirect implication is that financial redistribution of this sort is generated by something as natural and pervasive as gravity. They don’t have to make a claim that bold, the metaphor does it for them. The brain makes the connection and the water can keep on running uphill.
Economics is probably quite complicated. This, or at least the belief that this is the case, makes it something hidden far enough behind a curtain that we’ll accept a decent metaphor over an actual explanation any day. Witness the myriad attempts to explain quantitative easing without resorting to saying: ‘basically the government is going to pretend a load of money exists, and because they’re the government it actually happens….please try not to think about those wheelbarrows of money you heard about in GCSE History’.
It probably helps that money itself is a metaphor. Tiny scraps of paper bearing the promise of a sovereign. We ascribe these value, and the mass consensus is enough that it works. Most of our money doesn’t even get turned into paper or metal, it just stays as digits in computers, an agreement between banks and businesses that says ‘we’ll believe in that for you’.
And that’s how we get our cake fix.
If anyone wants to argue with me that we don’t live in an insane world, based on huge amounts of mass hallucination (well, imagined consensual metaphor, which is roughly equivalent), they can. But they’ll be wrong.
So we believe wealth will trickle down because we know how gravity works, and we know that the downtrodden masses are at the bottom of the pile, and the wealthy at the top. We have a class system so ingrained that we’ll believe when someone tells us the champagne pouring into the pyramid of glasses simply has to fill us all up.
If the rich gets rich, so does the country, which means we all do.
Perhaps, occasionally, where taxes and a welfare state is organised right, some of it does. But it’s not a trickling, it’s a forced peristalsis. The wealth has to be pushed around to reach the ‘bottom’. There is no gravity in economics.
If anything, there is a tendency, within capitalism, for value to flow upwards. This tendency is called exploitation, and is why a worker can be paid minimum wage for a job that creates value beyond that for somebody else. Wealth is creamed off the top of the work generated at the bottom. The economy is more like a fermenting barrel than a waterfall. But then we’re still just using metaphors, just as dangerously.
If you’re protecting vested interests, or even just a worldview that is important to you, metaphor is the way to promote it. There’s a flexibility in implication, and it can always sound believable, no matter how reality contradicts.
This is called marketing. And it’s bullshit.
So don’t buy it.
Illustration by Rosie‘s Adam (not our regular Adam)