I love perception, I think it is a concept that can be researched until the cows come home. This being superbowl weekend Bloomberg magazine and television, all internet accessible, was featuring a couple of articles, one of which was on a past Iconic television ad done for Apple Computers. Of course Apple is just Apple these days, signifying the i in all possible consumer products. Yes, the Mac laptop is still made but I don’t believe that have continued to make their signature desktop computer. That is too bad since both it and the laptop are good machines but way too over priced. So it seems that someone wants to trot out the old 1984 Apple super bowl advertisement as the definitive statement of excellence in advertising and nostalgia. The set up for the ad is that Apple is the new kid on the block challenging the old IBM, who is perceived as the controlling “Big Brother” figure in the world of computers. Thus we have the big screen with the infamous big brother like face being shown to an audience in which all are dressed alike. Then comes a young athletic woman carrying a sledge hammer and running down the center aisle. She reaches a certain point and flings the sledge hammer at the screen, breaking the image. Apple is represented by the young woman who is daring enough to question authority and fly in the face of conformity. Did the ad really do much for Apple? No, sales never increased much and in face Steve Jobs ran the company into the ground to the point that he called in another famous CEO who then masterminded Jobs firing. IBM ran the ads where a Charlie Chaplin like entrepreneur needed help running his business and that help came in the form of a user friendly IBM PS2 computer. The idea gained from the ad was that anyone could use the IBM PS2. Sales increased for IBM after running that ad.
The Apple ad was the perception of Steve Jobs ego, it was he who was defying Big Blue, not you, the customer. But the Charlie Chaplin like figure was you, the little man trying to get along in business and needing a simple solution, someone you, the customer, could identify with. Of course it didn’t help if the Apple computer cost twice as much as the PS2. Had Apple gone head to hear on price they might have made great inroads into the new personal computer market. Personal computers were once very costly in terms of what they could do. A top of the line personal computer might cost half as much as the cheapest compact automobile. Three or four thousand dollars was a lot to pay for one that relied on floppy disk programs bought as extras and whose small memories made the operation of those programs exceptionally slow by today’s standards. I tend to think the Apple ad had EGO written all over it and that is why a few think it such a brilliant ad while others paid little attention to the product at all. The perception by most people then was that Big Brother had not arrived. Today it is a different matter and in ten years we just might be ready ti identify with that ad.
But business isn’t the only area that gets fooled by perceptions. Politics is another where reading the perceptions of individual voters is difficult. The safe was is to appeal to the lowest common denominator in any large group. Most Americans don’t know that both prior to the war of independence and after only those who own property were allowed to vote. Today we call that having skin in the game. Thus our own democratic method of holding elections meant that the large group of voters wasn’t really that large and the common denominators that held them together were more cohesive than that mass of rabble in the streets. Universal suffrage for men didn’t come until much later, so our elected representatives, we are a republic, not a plebiscite, enact laws and such in our names. Our political parties usually try to reflect the perspectives of the majority of the population. In practice, that majority is often made up of different minorities who don’t always share the same perspectives but share enough to make a collision possible. Thus we can have politicians who are elected who might be more liberal or more conservative than average for the party as a whole. But once we have universal suffrage, then we start to see the readiness of the majority of the voting population to lean towards the free stuff collision. This is usually the result of those who yield power in political parties and see the advantage of buying votes with promises of government largess. And it is usually the advocates of large government who are drawn to this political game. Thus, large government is seen as the savior of mankind, doing for those who cannot do for themselves. Yet this comes at a cost to the populace, it keeps so many in a state of dependency.
We have seen this month the populist uprising of Syriza to power in Greece. It is a political party that promises the good life to all those who do not have it by way of government largess. True, the socialist leaders of other countries who dare not deprive their constituents of their government largess, have seen fit to, in the name of austerity and fiscal responsibility, deny the good life to those who live in relative poverty when compared to the rest of the EU. Is it any wonder that people will vote their interests even if their interests are harmful. The present Greek government really has not way to pay for all this good life its people want but that never stops a politician from promising and spending the money to procure it. The main problem with institutions is that we see them not as collectives of ourselves but as stand alone entities having a life and income of their own. Government has deep pockets because we do not understand who really pays it. If a government employee commits some tort against us we don’t sue him for monetary damages because he has little financial assets of which we might collect. Instead we sue his deep pockets employee, the government agency he works for because its budget is so much larger. Yet that budget comes from our taxes collected from us. Yes, it could come from fees, which are, in effect, a form of taxation. The point is, any money paid to the government is money paid to us in our behalf and administered by our representatives.
So our perception that government must be the provider of free stuff is a misperception on our part. We do not see that the money comes, ultimately, from us. If a corporation or private company pays taxes we fail to understand that buying those goods and services we are paying the taxes of those companies and corporations. So if we call for higher taxes on corporations we are calling for a higher tax on our consumption. Perceptions and misperceptions are the two sides of the same coin. We now see a populist movement in Spain which will get rid of Lovejoy, the conservative Prime Minister. The problem is, this free stuff army is a road from which one cannot walk back, it is strictly one way. Spain is on the way towards civil war again.