Thursday , November 15 2018
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Why lies matter

Summary:
After the Berlin Wall came down, there was a brief period of liberalism in Eastern Europe: The contemporary left disdains the open society as a neo-liberal capitalist dream; the right fears its skepticism toward tradition. But for the last five decades, most of America and Europe’s prosperity and peace have been based on an open society consensus, which for a brief moment after the end of the Cold War, it looked like Western thinkers like Soros had succeeded in importing to Eastern Europe. Markets opened to foreign investors. In 1991, Soros founded the Central European University with campuses in Prague, Warsaw and Budapest, a US-funded education center committed to critical thought and the study of democracy. Ironically, given recent developments, the CEU’s headquarters moved

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After the Berlin Wall came down, there was a brief period of liberalism in Eastern Europe:

The contemporary left disdains the open society as a neo-liberal capitalist dream; the right fears its skepticism toward tradition. But for the last five decades, most of America and Europe’s prosperity and peace have been based on an open society consensus, which for a brief moment after the end of the Cold War, it looked like Western thinkers like Soros had succeeded in importing to Eastern Europe. Markets opened to foreign investors. In 1991, Soros founded the Central European University with campuses in Prague, Warsaw and Budapest, a US-funded education center committed to critical thought and the study of democracy. Ironically, given recent developments, the CEU’s headquarters moved from Prague to Budapest when the Hungarian government of the time appeared more welcoming than the Czech.

Today it’s getting much darker in Eastern Europe:

That was then. The current Hungarian government, as Guy Verhofstadt wrote earlier this month, is probably the most illiberal and authoritarian in Europe, shutting down newspaperscorruptly capturing major facilities like water and energy, wrenching control of cultural and educational centers. Just like d’Souza, Barr and Trump Jr., the Hungarian government attacks Muslim migrants and Soros. During last spring’s election, when I was last in Hungary, you couldn’t turn without spotting the ruling Fidesz party advertisements, which featured crude photoshopped images of Soros personally cutting open the Hungarian border fences designed to keep out Muslim migrants. Like most authoritarian regimes, the Hungarian government inspires loyalty by stoking the fires of ethnic supremacy. Hungary, which spent centuries fighting the Ottoman Turks, has seen itself as Europe’s border with Islam since long before the current migrant crisis. The American alt-right laps up this talk of a clash of civilizations.

I know that some people think that it doesn’t matter if people lie about George Soros, if the President’s son calls him a Nazi collaborator.  All that matters (in their view) is corporate tax cuts.  In the short run it might seem like that is true, but in the long run you might say that honesty is all that matters.  A society built on lies will inevitably abandon liberalism.

Lies are a way of dehumanizing individuals like George Soros.  Once they are dehumanized, it’s much easier for troubled people to justify violence against them, or indeed against entire ethnic groups.  Hitler dehumanized the Jews through lies, and Mao dehumanized the rich through lies.  And that’s why for me there is only one overriding issue in the midterm elections.  Lies.  Yes, Hungary and Poland are still a long way from the 1930s, and America is further still, but I’d rather not experiment with how far this demagoguery can be pushed before causing major harm.  The risks are too great.


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Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment".

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