Monday, July 11, 2005

Symbolic Use of Politics

Over three decades ago, Murray Edelman wrote a seminal work on government entitled, the Symbolic Use of Politics. In the book he pointed out how elected officials often were able to bestow symbolic rewards on the many in order to effectively mask the dissemination of tangible benefits to the few.

Examples of symbolic politics abound and now, thanks to Frank Lombardi's Daily News article today, we can see one more. It seems that Rob Walsh, Commissioner of Small Business Services, is giving out, with much fanfare, 15 awards to small business representatives who have “demonstrated excellence” in fostering the sector. Walsh points out that small businesses (some 200,000 strong) account for 50% of the city’s workforce and generate $4.5 billion in tax revenue.

Thanks Commissioner for pointing that out. What is, however, left unsaid is that extent to which city policy has been consistently anti-small business, a fact we have alluded to elsewhere. So in our view, the city should keep the awards and figure out how to craft an actual economic development strategy that tangibly aids the majority of these small businesses. The symbolic awards are really of no more value than Marie Antoinette’s cake.