While advocacy is not the same as a business, it can be useful to look at similarities between traditional business and cycling advocacy organizations to see ways in which advocates could be more effective.
Traditional businesses sell goods and services in actual marketplaces while cycling advocates sell ideas in the marketplace of ideas.
But it’s not just ideas. Traditional businesses and governments are not likely to implement every idea that’s out there even if it’s a good one. Like I said, in a previous post, one of the biggest barriers to effective advocacy is that decision makers have a hard time distinguishing between effective and innovative ideas and insane and bad policies.
This is one of many reasons why they find really stupid ideas such as bicycle licenses and mandatory helmet laws so compelling. Both ideas directly address real world problems.
So it’s not only that they want to make a world a better place that traditional businesses are likely to be influenced by cycling. After all, they are still out to worry about the bottom line.
Thus, we can conclude that when a normally profit driven business starts talking about innovative cycle tracks, we need to have some caution.
That’s why the follow phrases are not only unhelpful but down right toxic: “we need to take what we can get” and “we need to be grateful because they don’t have to do anything at all.”
Actually there are very good reasons why cycling advocates very well do not need to “take whatever they can get.” I can’t emphasis how much of a terrible idea this is. The second, is true. Yes, businesses don’t have to do anything for cycling at all. However, that attitude is revealing of their perception of being in a dominant position. A good advocate should note this power imbalance and ask herself, “what can I do to address this problem?”
Because it is a problem. If we are going to conduct an exchange there are two possible ways we can do it. In the first, one of us is in a dominant position. The second is between equal partners.
I’d argue that the cycling world is actually in the situation where cycling advocates are in the dominant position and due to inept leadership and chronic self-sabotage, they actually put themselves in the submissive position.
Before we address that we need to look at one other concept. In real world markets, contrary to popular belief, business people do NOT like competition. That’s because like normal people, business people like to make as much money as they comfortably can, and competition reduces their income.
Thus, the idea of the cartel was born. In a cartel, bussinesses get together to raise the price of a good. For example, OPEC seeks to stabilize the price of petroleum on a global market.
They do this by mandatory reduction in petroleum output.
If one country tries to defy OPEC by selling oil at a higher price, nobody would buy. There’s no need for OPEC to punish someone. But if everyone, secretly, sold all their oil at a lower price, this would depress the world market and every oil producing country would have less profits. This would undermine the entire oil market. Thus, violators need to be punished.
What does this all have to do with advocacy?
As alluded to above, instead of selling good and services, one thing that advocacy agencies sell is the feeling of being a moral person. When the agencies are actively helping people, this feeling is justified.
This feeling is not just important to donors, but it also can translate into real money for traditional businesses. This is why many businesses advertise how good they are in the bicycling community. There are bicycle friendly businesses and even cities such as NYC are trying to market themselves as being cycling friendly. This attracts intelligent young workers who come to their cities to produce real wealth.
But it’s not just enough, for some people, to claim to be cycling friendly, but we should have a third party agency which verifies this. Enter advocacy organizations. They provide the stamp of cycling friendly approval. This is their petrol.
OPEC countries are some of the most prosperous countries in the world and it’s not because they give away oil. Rather, they get as much profit as the market will reasonably bare.
For cycling advocacy agencies, their “profits” are in terms of money spent both by business and the government in the form cycling infrastructure. That’s it. No money spent, no profit.
If a government agencies puts out a PSA that asks us to “drive a bit safer” this is the equivalent of someone telling us to give money to the starving children of Saudi Arabia. Sure they’ll take this money, but you’re not going to get oil in return for an empty feel good message.
Think about all the times, when the advocacy organizations have sold us short. Think about how little infrastructure has been built. What the hell were our advocates doing? They were opening the oil taps and giving away our oil. Not their oil, but the oil that all of us, as cyclists, collectively own.
That’s bad. But the story gets much darker.
In advocacy, we also have organizations which could operate like cartels, but instead they act as a cartel in reverse.
What does this even mean? It means that in the example above, if a country were to charge too much for oil, the cartel would do nothing as the market would soon correct itself as people would only pay the market price for oil.
But what if the cartel actively sought to underprice oil? How could they do this? If collectively dropped the price of oil then more intelligent country could no longer make a profit.
This is exactly the situation for cycling today. When someone, a polititian or business, opens its mouths about cycling, the advocacy agencies fall all over themselves to sell their oil. They don’t ask how much they are getting in return and they don’t collectively hold out for more money. Actually they do the reverse and insist that everyone sell their oil for less. This is known as “working together” and “speaking with one voice.”
The people that do this are selling out their own community. Not only are they giving their communities oil away, but they are insisting that the rest of us, who are more intelligent, give our oil away. This results in a bankrupted system which is very, very poor. Right now the cycling mode share is in the single digits. It is as poor as it possibly can without being non-existent.
Now you know why.