What exactly is the truth?

What makes an open society function healthily?.

I suspect very few of you regular readers will recall that in 2009 (24th June to be precise) I ran a very short article under a similar title.  This is what was published.

A simple heading but, in truth, a very complex subject.  This was brought home by a recent article in The Economist by Bagehot.  That is “Politicians frequently lie. So does everyone else. Why all the fuss?”

Bagehot writes a Blog so those who don’t read the newspaper can read the rest of his thesis here.

Here’s some of that essay by Bagehot,

On lying

Jun 30th 2009, 14:43 by Bagehot

THE WORD “lie” means something very specific. It doesn’t mean a misleading statement, or an exaggeration, or a half-truth: it is a falsehood advanced intentionally and knowingly. That is why, in my column last week, I wrote that probably only Tony Blair and his crew could know whether they “lied” about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Only they can know what was in their heads, and how far their public utterances diverged from their inner convictions. For that reason the question of lying over Iraq seems to me a bit of a red herring and distraction. What can be proved about their sloppiness and embellishments, and has been, is bad enough.

Lying is back in the news this week. Gordon Brown stands accused by various newspapers and columnists of deliberately misleading the public about the government’s fiscal position. Ditto Ed Balls, the prime minister’s henchman, who evidently doesn’t take kindly to having his integrity impugned in this way. David Cameron is a bit more periphrastic, knowing that in political parlance the “l” word is a nuclear accusation; but he came pretty close to it yesterday with his talk of “a thread of dishonesty” running through Mr Brown’s premiership.

There are (at least) two big questions provoked by this revived interest in lying. First and most obviously, are Mr Brown, Mr Balls and others really and indisputably liars? Do the fiscal figures they cite and twist in any way support the interpretation they put on them–at least enough to make it credible that they believe what they are saying, even if no-one else does? If so, they may not be lying. They may be over-optimistic, incompetent or deluded. But they are not obviously liars.

Just re-read those last few sentences, “Do the fiscal figures they cite and twist in any way support the interpretation they put on them–at least enough to make it credible that they believe what they are saying, even if no-one else does? If so, they may not be lying. They may be over-optimistic, incompetent or deluded. But they are not obviously liars.

Delay your judgement for just a few minutes while we go to this next item.  This next item is a recent essay from John Maudlin, the financial expert, about the latest jobs report in the US.

What Happened to the Jobs?

By John Mauldin

July 7, 2011

The US jobs report came out this morning, and it was simply dismal. This week we look at not only the jobs report but also “what-if” proffers for the US and global economies. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s jump in.

First, there were only 18,000 jobs created in June, the lowest since September 2010. While private employment rose by 57,000, government workers dropped by 39,000, continuing a trend as governments at all levels work to cut their budgets. Long-time readers know I think it is important to look at the direction of the revisions, and we got no help. May was revised down by 29,000 jobs and April a further down 15,000.

I saw some headlines and talking heads in the mainstream media saying the poor number was due to “seasonals,” and I just shook my head. If you are that reflexively bullish when presented with what was clearly a bad report, how can you be taken seriously? You know who you are. And then Philippa Dunne of the Liscio Report sent the following note. She is one of the best data mavens there is on jobs and employment.

John M. then includes quite a long extract from Philippa’s note. You can read it and the rest of John’s article here.  Here’s how that extract from Philippa Dunne ends,

Also, there is no adjustment to the headline number – the sectors are adjusted separately (96 different industries at the 3-digit NAICS level, to be precise) and the total is the sum of those components. The whole argument is bogus.

Notice that last sentence, “The whole argument is bogus.” [My emboldening, Ed.]

OK, clearly not lying, in the strict definition of the term.  But still delay your judgement.

Back on the 25th June this year, I wrote a piece with the title of Lying is OK, that’s official! Duh!  I stated very clearly that lying is wrong!  Mind you, one could at least congratulate Jean Claude Juncker for honestly admitting being a liar. (Jean Claude Juncker is the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and the head of the Eurogroup council of eurozone finance ministers.)  Here’s that video clip with Juncker admitting that when it’s serious one has to lie!  (Listen carefully, the words are quietly spoken.)

Finally, I have long followed Yves Smith’s excellent Blog, Naked Capitalism. Just yesterday, Yves wrote a powerful piece,

MONDAY, JULY 11, 2011

More Proof That Obama is Herbert Hoover

Not only is Obama assuring that he will go down as one of the worst Presidents in history, but for those who have any doubts, he is also making it clear that his only allegiance is to the capitalist classes and their knowledge worker arms and legs.

It’s an angry essay that has, at it’s heart, an anger at the lack of true representative government, remember the one that Abraham Lincoln had in mind when he wrote, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.

Yves concludes in that article thus,

Even knowing how dedicated to bad ends Obama is, I still feel like I’ve walked into a parallel universe. He’s now determined to make these horrific entitlement cuts a sign of his manhood. This is “Change” for sure, to a more brutal, grasping, dog eat dog society, all administered by self serving elites. They will in the end reap the whirlwind they are creating, but not before it mows a path of destruction through our social order.

Right, time to draw it all together.

Despite my chest-beating on the subject of politicians and leaders deliberately lying in that recent piece about Juncker, there’s something much more fundamental.  What defines lying is really not that important.  It’s whether or not we trust that our leaders are doing their best for their constituents, to the best of their abilities.

Whether you support left-leaning or right-leaning policies is unimportant; indeed political differences and the ability to vote for one’s beliefs is at the heart of an open democracy.

But if we don’t trust that our leaders are doing their best for our country then that causes the destruction of faith.  If we do not have faith in those that lead us then the breakdown of a civilised social order becomes a very real risk.

These are such difficult times impacting us across so many fronts. Scarily, one seems to find many who have lost much faith in their leaders.

That, my friends, is the truth.

4 thoughts on “What exactly is the truth?

  1. Yves Smith is omitting the truth that Obama gets to a 4 trillion cut in deficit, thanks, in part, to tax increases. Yves Smith is implicitly describing a context where Obama gets there through spending cuts only. So who is lying now?

    I do believe that Obama is (slightly) on the left of the Tea Party, and the economic disaster is his, at this point, as he succeeded to out-Bush Bush. Long ago, when the disaster was unfolding, I pointed out that his stimulus was smaller than France’s! However, we need to cling to truth. And that was the truth. (France is expanding much more than the USA at this point.)

    Truth, BTW, even in formal logic, is not fully elucidated. (Those who think I don’t know what I talking about can search for “Tarsky”, a later logician, and “truth”). No wonder it’s hard to find in political life…

    http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/

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  2. I think many have lost touch with the Truth of many things.. and yes many have lost faith in the leaders of our world as lie after lie is exposed.. .. “What exactly is Truth”? yes I wonder!.. Do they even know?

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    1. Sue: No, they don’t know what the truth is, and they don’t care. They are not looking for it. Truth, for them, means power. They just laugh as they get ahead, trampling us all on the way (spoken form one who has had direct evidence of the caudillo maximo…).
      Why this, why now? Because it gets in the air, and a civilization goes down thus; rots by the head. Leaders have their own society, they don’t see the rest.
      PA

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  3. Patrice and Sue,

    Thanks, as always, for your views. As it happens, I’m reading the recent new edition of Hyman Minsky’s comprehensive book Stabilizing An Unstable Economy, first published in 1986. Minsky died in 1986. There’s an additional chapter at the start reviewing Minsky’s views some two decades later. In that chapter on Page 28 is this,

    “By various measures, the degree of inequality today is as high as it was on the eve of the Great Depression. Indeed, the income gains achieved by the top 1% of income earners during 2003-05, $525 billion, was greater that the total income, $380 billion in 2005, going to the bottom 20% of the population. Redistributing just half of those gains to the lowest quantile would have increased income at the bottom by 70%.”

    Having written those words, I sat for a good 5 minutes wondering how to close this comment. In the end, words fail me!

    Paul

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