“Yes I can”! The can-do spirit and the trickle-down effect

What is the trickle-down effect! This jargon sums up the theory that when those at the top succeed they drag everyone else up with them. According to this mantra we should let the winners win, and let them win big, because we will all gain from it. To begrudge winners their success is nothing but the ‘politics of envy’. We should not be envious when some folks make it big because then we risk not only denying others the pleasures of their successes but we may well be also only hurting ourselves.

This populist neoliberal view has been largely discredited in recent decades. Rather than widespread prosperity the ‘winner takes all’ attitude to the economy has led to diminishing prospects for the vast majority of people. During the Thatcherite experiment with privatisation levels of public and private investment in the nation’s future have been disappointingly low while pay and profits at the very top have risen exponentially. Squeezed living standards for most people are only just beginning to return to levels reached at the turn of the century. The people are beginning to see how they have been let down by  the neoliberal mantra that has not seen enough money going into investments that would actually benefit the majority and not just for a tiny minority.

The success of GB Olympians in 2016 is the result not just of the hard work and innate ability of a few, but also of a system that pours money into a sports men and women to get the very best out of them. It has proved to have been a very effective system. As Martin Kettle writes in ‘The Olympic model can work for our economy too’ in The Guardian this week, the medal tally proves that the investment model works! We create a system, fund it, crank the handle, out come the rewards. Oh, that we could do this for other parts of the economy, is the cry.

Investment in team GB’s Olympic success in 2016 has been a relatively small amount of money and the resulting feel-good factor of the  nation has been high. Most people seem to agree that money spent encouraging our top athletes is money well spent. Perhaps it is churlish to point out that the outcome is not exactly equalitarian. Once again we are vastly inflating the difference in outcome between a tiny lucky few and the vast majority of talented hard workers. Will this drag everyone up? Will it improve the nation’s health and well-being, or will it merely serve as a patriotic, trophy-cabinet, spearheading a celebrity culture of false pride?

I am now waiting to see all the forthcoming Olympic Dames and Knights taking their places alongside the likes of Sir Philip Green. Queen’s honours can be another very cost effective way of strengthening the allure of the state’s objectives. Those who attain these honours no doubt feel that they deserve them in some way. Though this is perhaps more true of Olympians than of some others there not a hair’s breath of a difference between a winning athlete and a losing one. These tiny differences are augmented into enormous proportions for the sake of the entertainment value it brings to the media circus.

Brazilian protesters who did not want to see the Olympics staged in their home country, a nation wracked by poverty and inequality, have been kept well away from the cameras so as not to spoil everyone’s fun. Spectator seats have been empty partly because prices are so unaffordable to most locals. “Yes I can” was the slogan of the para-olympians this year, but the budget for their games has been pilfered to provide financial cover for the able-bodied games, themselves beset by economic losses. Despite the well-known widespread escalation of drugs cheating at international sporting events, Ben Rumsby reported yesterday in The Telegraph that the anti-doping systems in place in Rio have been the worst in the history of the Olympic Games.

So the question remains, will there be a positive trickle-down effect and if so for whom? Investment in community projects, in health and recreation, in regional centres of excellence across the country is very much to be admired. My preference is that the rewards are widely rather than narrowly distributed. It is good to take pleasure in personal achievements, but it must surely be relevant to bear in mind the state of the playing fields both at home and abroad. The unfortunate fact is that we live in a world where playing fields are extremely uneven. So while it is highly desirable to believe in the mantra ‘yes I can’ and to approach life with a can-do spirit, the reality is that the trickle-down effect is nothing to rely on.


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