Brandalism, Banksy and Bastiat: advert sabotage in Glasgow

Walking down Woodlands Road, Glasgow yesterday I came across this piece of advert sabotage and subversion on a bus stop.

Update 22 May 2014: my thanks to thehauntedshoreline who put me onto the excellent BrandalismUK campaign responsible for this. Brandalism is an anti-advertising campaign whose recent activities saw teams in 10 UK cities reclaim over 360 corporate advertising spaces with hand made original art works submitted by 40 international artists. More information is on their website at or on Twitter. I am relived it was genuine – read on for that to make sense!

Original article posted 15 May 2014

In this day and age though this might well be a sophisticated false flag marketing operation that will in a couple of weeks be revealed to be run by some tax avoiding multi-national cleansing its soul by funding an art collective or museum.

Advert sabotage on a Glasgow bus-stop

Advert sabotage on a Glasgow bus-stop

The bus stop sighting was timely because recently a call to arms to subvert advertising, attributed to Banksy, has gone viral on social media while a counter-viral claims that it borrows heavily from Tejaratchi’s essay “Death, Phones, Scissors,” which was published in 1999. Perhaps the bus stop was a Glaswegian response to Banksy’s call.

In the middle of the art piece reads an eloquent 19th century inscription by Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) :

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in a society, they create for themselves in course of time a legal system that authorises it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

Banksy's viral on advertsing

Banksy’s viral on advertsing

Frederic Bastiat was a French liberal theorist and political economist who was notable for developing the concept of opportunity through the influential ‘Parable of the Broken Window’.

The parable argues why destruction, and the money spent to recover from destruction, is not actually a net benefit to society. The irony is that, intentionally or not from the art saboteurs, the parable of the broken window can be interpreted as the parable of the sabotaged bus stop. Substitute where appropriate glaziers and windows for bus stop maintenance and advertisers.

“Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James Goodfellow, when his careless son has happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present…you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact that every one of the spectators…offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation – “It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?”
“Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier’s trade – that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs – I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.

But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, “Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.”

It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.”

Bastiat, Hazlitt, and others went on to equate the glazier with war, special interests, and the government.

Criticism of the parable pointed to several off-setting factors:

  • enforced new investment in business,
  • new technologies developed during a war,
  • forced modernisation during reconstruction,
  • natural disasters can often lead to improved growth,
  • the broken window may not lead to reduction in spending by the victim, but rather, a reduction in excessive savings.

Furthermore, “the logic of limited resources only applies when the economy is using most of those limited resources. If there are slack resources, we need merely mobilize some of the slack resources.”

Which vaguely and incoherently brings it back to Banksy and his call to “take, re-arrange and re-use” public adverts. Who knows if Bastiat would approve though.

Further information

Much of the above on Frederic Bastiat and the Parable of the broken window was hastily borrowed from Wikipedia.

8 thoughts on “Brandalism, Banksy and Bastiat: advert sabotage in Glasgow

    • The original had been removed. Sadly the artwork has since gone and it’s back to booking holidays and insurance. The irony is many ironies is that I love a holiday of course.


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