Five years in and we’re still trying to recover from the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Business Technology’s resident U.S. blogger Keil Hubert suggests we need to leverage every economic gimmick in our kit bag to finish getting clear of it – including political scandals and rancorous political screeds.
After five years of slogging out of the smouldering impact crater that’s been the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, we’re finally seeing some irrefutable signs of recovery. We opened 2014 with a lovely collection of political and social scandals that ought to keep our comedians richly supplied for at least the rest of the fiscal quarter.
Just this last week, news broke that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (and/or) his political staff abused their political power to engineer a completely unnecessary and abusive restriction of traffic on the George Washington Bridge that links Fort Lee, New Jersey to Manhattan in New York City, all to ‘punish’ the mayor of the town responsible for the bridge.
America’s most trusted news team did a fantastic exposé on this problem on 8th January that deserves to be viewed multiple times. It also sets the tone for how the coverage on this scandal will likely play out over the course of the next two years, since Governor Christie is widely viewed as the most likely Republican Party nominee to run for president of the USA in 2016. Even if it turns out to be a confusing mess, this bridge business won’t go away, since it provides comics, critics, and politicians with a great platform from which to discuss Mr Christie’s suitability to serve as president.
“The negative economic impact of the jam itself may actually be balanced out by investment in coverage of the event.”
I freely admit that I personally have no idea what really happened in the September 2013 George Washington Bridge ‘traffic study’ incident or who might be responsible for it, or to what extent. From a strictly economic standpoint, I think that the negative economic impact suffered by all of the people and businesses affected by jam itself  may actually be balanced out by the massive investment of funds that are being spent now in coverage of the event.
This week’s stories and jokes are just the beginning; what’s important to the economic health of the country is that millions of dollars are going to be spent between now and the next presidential election in 2016 on partisan advertisements concerning this ‘bridge incident.’
For my European readers, you should know that American politics are absolutely saturated by private money. From the moment a politician is elected, their number one objective is to raise money to fund their next re-election campaign. Wealthy donors and corporations spend horking gobs of cash to influence politicians, to nudge policy, and to sway voters in such a way as to advance their own ‘enlightened self-interest.’
Now that our Supreme Court has turned corporate money into ‘speech,’ the amount of spending by private interests on political races is astounding. Disturbing, too, when you consider just how shady the whole process can be.
During the 2012 presidential election season, just one group raised over $407,000,000  to promote their pet causes. This New York Times article estimated that over one billion dollars was spent on just one side of the contest. That’s a billion dollars raised and expended by the losing side. Add in the money raised by and spent by the winning side, and you have a truly obscene amount of private money influencing out politics … but also money that was spent on goods and services, thereby forming its own ‘economic stimulus’ program at a time when our nation badly needed it.
“The New York Times estimated that over one billion dollars was spent on just one side of the contest in the 2012 presidential election.”
These politically-motivated folks spent their money quite lavishly on advertisements for radio, television, print media, billboard, e-mail, social media, and other media. Yes, it’s probable that some of that money was sent abroad, but I daresay that most of it was spent right here in the USA, buying access and airtime. All of that investment provided salaries and benefits to tens of thousands of people who needed work during the economic crisis and long, jobless recovery.
This New Jersey bridge thing is like a seed crystal, around which a beautiful and captivating narrative structure is going to come into being over the next two years. Money will be raised and promptly exhausted on pro- and anti-Christie advertisements that are utterly unlikely to sway anyone’s opinions.
As the election campaign grinds on, each side of the content will grow ever more desperate to sway voters to ‘their’ side. The people with strong opinions and surplus cash will amp up their attacks, making more memorable and hysterical adverts, thereby providing comedians with a rich field of targets to parody. The funnier the response to the ads are, the more people will respond to the jokes, which increases the exposure of the comedians’ sponsors’ advertisements, and so on. Everybody wins to some small extent. 
I don’t have a stake in New Jersey politics, and I’m far too jaded with American electoral silliness to want to start thinking about the insane circus that will dominate the 2016 Hunger Gamespresidential race. I find all the vapid posturing and spiteful personal attacks to be undignified, crass, and counter-productive.
That being said, all of this useless public posturing may be morally bankrupt, but it’s probably good for the economy. Right now, we need more jobs with good wages and good benefits. If all of this useless hullabaloo on the television gets another thousand job seekers off the bench and into an office, then it will all be worth it – especially when you consider that Americans tend to ignore political advertising that doesn’t match their pre-existing positions. Check out David McRaney’s ‘blog post on the ‘backfire effect’ if you’d like to delve deeper into the phenomenon.
I’m hopeful that this new national infusion of personal and corporate money into partisan politics will (finally!) accomplish what Ronald Reagan promised us back in 1980: the theoretical benefits he promised would come from ‘trickle down economics.’
“It’s the best of both worlds: wealth redistribution for the political left, and empowered issues speech for the political right.”
This understandable urge to make one’s position heard at all costs (literally) promises to siphon excess funds out of the bank accounts of rich people and businesses alike, allowing those dollars to flow back into the economy where they’ll actually feed, clothe, house, and sustain not-rich people and businesses. It’s the best of both worlds: wealth redistribution for the political left, and empowered issues speech for the political right.
The best part of all is that in the end, it’s all sound and fury, signifying nothing … but it pays for groceries, child care, and health insurance for all of the actors, advert sales people, animators, camera operators, caterers, composers, costumers, directors, distributors, editors, electricians, gaffers, grips, hair stylists, location scouts, makeup artists, mate painters, musicians, printers, producers, prop makers, riggers, screenwriters, sound engineers, special effects wizards, tech support boffins, web developers, and (for the weirder projects) stunt people working on the various video advertisements. Factor in all the folks involved in print, radio, and web content and you have a lot of folks benefitting from the process of facilitating others’ public speech.
And best of all … we can all facilitate the process. All you need to help make this ‘spittle-down economics’ process  function is to own and occasionally use a media consumption device, like a smart phone, tablet, PC, or television. The angry speakers want to reach their audience, and that means going after us on all of the possible screens in our lives. The more devices we have, the more banner ads and custom apps and videos have to get made. For that reason (and that reason alone), Ireally hope that someone buys up RIM soon and that Windows Phone 8 gains some traction in the marketplace before 2015. Ditto for adoption of the new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles. I’d like to see all these advertisers feel obligated to spend their funds on as many platforms as humanly possible, just so that as much money as possible flows out of stagnant bank accounts to the people who need decent jobs. Heck, I’ll cheerfully accept political advertisements on the new Samsung Galaxy Gear watch if it means more opportunities for decent people to claw their way out of this economic hell-scape.
Please do your part to advance the global economic recovery: put your phone on silent and let some of the ‘bridge drama’ screeds play. You don’t have to pay any attention to them. Just let the vitriol flow harmlessly past, knowing that somewhere, someone is feeding his or her kids thanks to that angry drivel.
Assuming, of course, that they’re not helplessly stuck in traffic.
 I do have great empathy for everyone caught up in that traffic mess.
 About €298 million, or £249 million. See previous, re: horking gobs of money.
 I’m a huge fan of Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live team, and can’t wait to see what they do with this story.
 I really hope that phrase catches on.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
Keil Hubert is a business, security and technology operations consultant in Texas. He’s built dot-com start-ups for KPMG Consulting, created an in-house consulting practice for Yahoo! Broadcast, and helped launch four small businesses (including his own). You can email him at email@example.com.