Two programmes this week presented two radically different world views, or rather ways of life. Aditya Chakrabortty’s series for Radio 4, Decoding the News, looked at five words or phrases which have come to characterise how politics, finance and business operate in the UK. We entered a world of policy wonks and pundits, of words used not to enlighten or explain but to calculate and confuse. A world in which those who tell stories get all the attention, while those who insist on sticking to the facts are ignored or on occasion ridiculed. It made for chilling listening as, for instance, Chakrabortty deconstructed the meaning of that slippery term, ‘shareholder value’.
Once upon a time, he suggested, before the 1980s, the annual reports of companies were interested in the product being made and the market share of that product; rarely was there any discussion of share price and nothing at all was said about shareholder value. That all changed as the share price of the company became the only measure by which its success was judged. Chief executives were rewarded for increasing the share price, even if this meant cutting costs that ultimately threatened the success of the product. But as one of Chakrabortty’s guest experts explained, we are all to blame, not just the companies themselves. After all, ‘have you ever fed back to the trustees [of your pension scheme] to demand that they invest in companies who are not pursuing shareholder value?’
Meanwhile on the World Service Peter Curran travelled north beyond the Arctic Circle to the small fishing town of Vadso on the northern cape of Norway. In Spirit of the Midnight Sun he talked to the Sami who live in that most inhospitable terrain, great slabs of rock, a hostile sea, freezing temperatures and, for much of the winter, cloaked in darkness.