Other mountebanks are fraudulent, of course, or as Volpone calls them, 'turdy-facy-nasty-paty-lousy-fartical rogues'
Quite neatly, I went straight into the Ethics and Media class, which is largely actually populated by students from Religious Studies courses. After several weeks exploring Bentham, Mill and Kant, we're at the stage of doing case studies. Today was advertising: can it be ethical at all? How does it work? We looked at Kerry Katona's banned loan shark advert,
a furniture ad, one for shampoo (replete with dodgy statistics and misleading claims) and discussed whether the onus is on the advertiser to be truthful (if such a thing is possible) or on the buyer to be aware. More than a few decided that it's OK for corporations to lie because they need to make a profit.
Conversation turned to pseudo-science and surveys as they're used in ads. The cohort choice is never presented, neither are the questions or contexts. The numbers are laughably low: none of this would every stand up to scrutiny. This of course gave me the chance to show them one of my favourite comedy scenes, from Yes, Prime Minister. It's funny because it's still true, in politics as in commerce:
It still raised a laugh from the students, who have never heard of the show before, so respect is due to the authors. Sadly I didn't have time to show them another of my favourite exchanges, on newspaper readerships:
I used to think this was comedy:
until the banking crash, and in particular the sight of a line of bank CEOs admitting to Parliament that they didn't have any financial qualifications and didn't actually understand how the financial instruments they sold actually worked (or failed to work). Can't find a clip, but here's the exchange:
Q779 Nick Ainger: Let us start with you, Sir Tom: what banking qualifications have you got?
Sir Tom McKillop: I do not have any formal banking qualifications. I was five years in (?).
Sir Fred Goodwin: Whether you would call them banking qualifications or not, but I have a degree in law; I qualified as a chartered accountant; I was in public practice, including auditing banks for a number of years; I was involved in winding-up banks and then looking at providing advice for banks; I was Chief Executive of Clydesdale Bank; and I was a Chief Executive of Yorkshire Bank before I joined the Royal Bank of Scotland group in 1998 as Deputy Chief Executive.
Mr Hornby: I do not have any formal banking qualifications. I have an MBA from Harvard where I specialised in all the finance courses, including financial services; and before I took over as Chief Executive two years ago I was a Director of HBOS for seven years.
Lord Stevenson of Coddenham: Like Andy, I have no formal banking qualifications. I have of course been Chairman of the Bank for ten years; and before that I was initially, for about 20 years, an entrepreneurial businessman and I have run large businesses since then.
And now I'm going fencing. I haven't hit anyone all day and I feel the need.