Lies Politicians Tell Us | Hoover Institution

Great insights from Allan H. Meltzer at the Hoover Institution:

Most of us learn at some point that politicians tell lies. We expect them to stop once they hold office or to face the consequences. In the past, politicians that violated the public trust resigned, most notably President Richard Nixon. Other lesser officials have also been punished for abusing public trust. No longer. In campaigns, and in office, politicians and their aides or supporters deliberately lie about matters of importance.

….The Obama administration lied to change a major foreign policy issue. Other lies are about less important but not unimportant issues. The French economist Thomas Piketty claimed that capitalism squeezes the middle and lower classes to favor the rich. Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century and other studies that followed supported that argument by relying on deceptive data—specifically, income before taxes and transfers. Critics pointed out that the case is much weaker if income after taxes and transfers is used, as it should be. That’s much closer to the receipts that people have. And the differences are large. Transfers that are not part of income before taxes amount to more than $1 billion annually. The top 20 percent of taxpayers paid 84 percent of all income taxes in recent years. And the derided top 1 percent paid 23.5 percent of the income tax.The failure to use income after taxes and transfers cannot be accidental. It seems to be a deliberate attempt to mislead the public. And it is not the only misuse of data. Much of the recent large rise in the income received by the top 1 or 10 percent results from the Federal Reserve’s policy of lowering interest rates and raising housing and stock prices.

…..Hillary Clinton proclaims almost daily that women receive only 78 percent of the income that men receive. Her message is so misleading as to be dishonest. The 78 percent number is the ratio of women’s to men’s median pay. It does not adjust for occupational and other differences in the work that men and women do. For example, skilled neurosurgeons and football, baseball, and basketball stars are men. Domestic workers and hospital cleaning crews are mainly women. A recent paper by Diana Furchtgott-Roth summarized studies at Cornell and other quality economic departments. When adjustment for occupational differences are considered, the ratio is 92 or 94 percent, not the advertised 78 percent. And the remaining difference may not be due to discrimination. Differences in time in the work force, hours worked, and other factors may play a role.

….These are just a few examples of lies and misleading statements that we encounter every day. Clinton lies frequently and Trump shouts a falsehood a day—and probably more—as a major part of his campaign. This is not what citizens of a free country should expect and demand.

….Free societies require truth and honesty.

Worth reading the entire article at: Lies Politicians Tell Us | Hoover Institution

Hat tip to David Kotok.

2 thoughts on “Lies Politicians Tell Us | Hoover Institution

  1. frankaquin0 says:

    Colin, I realise this is long and rambling. I won’t be offended if you ditch it:-)

    I read Mr Meltzer’s article – thanks to Colin for the link and post. It was interesting and thought provoking. As I read it I even found myself asking “is this article even true or is he lying?”. Eventually I concluded it was probably true, simply because there were enough checkable statements in it that only a fool would write such an article without researching the facts. That’s where my quest for truth in the matter ended. But then I began to wonder if Mr Meltzer checked the research or did he blindly rely on his sources being true. Then it occurred to me that it’s actually very hard to know what’s true and what isn’t these days (probably always has been). Even in science, where lying defeats the purpose and takes you into the wilderness – even there, scientists sometimes lie.

    Here are some random thoughts about lying that might get keyboards clicking.
    All humans lie. It’s tempting to say lying is an inevitable outcome of intelligence. But I’m more inclined to say telling the truth is a new concept evolutionarily speaking. Truth is intelligence’s attempt to break away from the animal mind that, I would argue, always lies. I know some people would wish to preserve the integrity of animals by saying they are honest creatures that always act honestly, and there’s a certain spiritual appeal to that. I love most animals (mosquitoes not so much) but my observation is animals are just survival machines that are compelled to deceive to survive. Most predators hunt at night to deceive the eyesight of their prey. Most prey gang up to hedge their bets or put their neighbours in harm’s way, or will cleverly camouflage themselves either through genetic natural selection or simply by hiding, standing still whatever deception works. The ones that don’t deceive don’t survive, which is why you don’t see antelope leap in front of leopards and shout “wanna race?” Unlike animals we are intelligent speaking beings so we have the choice to either lie or tell the truth.

    So why do we lie?
    A passable definition is that we lie to gain something we wouldn’t otherwise gain by telling the truth. Sometimes it’s for material gain (food, money, contracts, etc), sometimes it’s for self esteem (getting votes, appearing smarter than we really are, sharing genes illicitly with more than one partner; winning at the Olympics, etc).

    When I was a boy I got punished if I was caught lying, so I eventually acquired my parents meme that lies are bad, truth is good. The Church even said so (all of them) so it had to be right. Then along came television and I was suddenly bombarded with advertising jam-packed full of blatant lies: this face cream makes you look ten years younger; our cup-a-soup is the best in the world; pine-o-clean kills 99% of germs; our stores have the lowest prices, etc, etc, etc). In my boyhood naiveté I expected the police to break into the studio and arrest the advertisers. But nothing happened, and it slowly dawned on me that lying was actually OK and even necessary to get ahead.

    It wasn’t until I was well into my late teens that I discovered there was such a thing as business law, and businesses were actually supposed to be honest. Up until then I had assumed from observation that businesses could make, sell, and do whatever they wanted with impunity. Once I started reading history, especially the history of the Industrial Revolution, I discovered I would have been right about that in the 18th century, but since then the tension between concentrated wealth and power, versus building/maintaining a civilized society, has dragged us kicking a screaming into the realization that lies only create temporary belief (and of course stupendous wealth for a few), while truth creates trust and a chance (just a chance) to create a sustainable future. The most recent example I can think of, of a really big lie that threatened that future, is the behaviour of people that led to the GFC.

    That politicians lie, shouldn’t surprise us, but neither should we let them get away with it easily. They are in the self esteem game and we should call them liars when they lie (I mean really lie, not just mistaken). I don’t think politicians are inherently more dishonest than the average person, but despite their initial (probably honourable) reasons to seek office, eventually the system will drive them towards protecting their image (self esteem) above all else, which often will require lying. As members of a political party they don’t get a chance to shine as individuals. They are in a team, and the team either wins or loses. All they can do is either present a good image, or hide their mistakes. It’s no accident that more and more government activities are having veils of secrecy thrown over them. National Security has become a euphemism for hiding incompetence or nasty behaviour so as to protect government self esteem.

    But at the end of the day all people will lie if it benefits them enough, and neither Mr Meltzer’s article nor my ramblings will change that. I think a better way to look at it is this: The Universe is running down. We all should know that by now. The dead cold chaos of maximum entropy is inevitable and absolute; but it is temporarily reversible by (as Prof. Brian Cox would say) borrowing order from the energy that still exists in the Universe. DNA is an example of borrowed order (in our case borrowed from the Sun) and has slowly but unwaveringly led to specialized genes and to you and me typing and reading about truth. Chemicals don’t lie to each other when they share electrons to become molecules. Their integrity is impeccable and consistent and unbreakable. An oxygen atom can’t lie its way into a water molecule and pretend it’s still water. Hydrogen peroxide isn’t water no matter how you spin it. The same is true of every chemical in me and in you. To my odd mind, lying will somehow accelerate the disorder in the Universe and hasten the rush to chaos, while truth will somehow hold entropy back for as long as we can sustain it. I feel we somehow owe it to the Universe to keep it ordered as long as we possibly can.

    Well, Mr Meltzer’s article certainly took me somewhere I wasn’t expecting. Perhaps it was the Shiraz I shared with neighbours this afternoon.

    • ColinTwiggs says:

      ….To my odd mind, lying will somehow accelerate the disorder in the Universe and hasten the rush to chaos, while truth will somehow hold entropy back for as long as we can sustain it….

      Good point: lying promotes chaos. Also that condoning ‘white lies’ in advertising increases our acceptance of lies in the media.

      Two thoughts on human nature:

      1. Most people follow their own self-interest; and
      2. They also tend to follow the line of least resistance.

      Which leads to the conclusion that humans will follow the path that promises the most reward for the least effort. If a lie will win you more votes, or make more profit, with less effort, the incentive is there.

      How can we change this?
      By increasing the cost of lying. This was the role of the news media before they were white-anted by big corporations in pursuit of the dollar. Fact-checking and exposing lies increases the cost of lying. Deterioration of the media is why readers have turned to even less-reliable and more easily-manipulated social media for the ‘truth’. We can combat this trend by encouraging investigative journalism. This is only achievable if journalists and the media are free from dependence on advertising.
      Media-watch programs, where the industry attempts to police itself and expose falsehoods, can also play a part.
      Also, encouraging greater public involvement in investigation and research. Social media like Wikipedia are not perfect but they are a step in the right direction. It becomes harder to lie if there are hundreds of people checking your facts and sources.
      Lastly, by conditioning. This starts in the home, with your parents. But it also includes naming and shaming liars, and those who blatantly attempt to distort the truth, in the public media. Making an example of the worst offenders.

      Conspiracy theorists are more difficult to combat. They encourage chaos by promoting the idea that there is no truth: everyone is lying. Shaming in the public media would merely give them the publicity they desperately crave. They thrive in social media, which is where one needs to combat them through a public education campaign. Amazing how quickly they evaporate when asked for facts or sources.

      …I feel we somehow owe it to the Universe to keep it ordered as long as we possibly can.

      I think the world needs more of that Shiraz.

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