Economics of…bullshit

I have always blamed my pathological lying on other people’s failure to understand sarcasm. My pathetic little practice begins with a misleading statement in order to invoke a reaction, before quickly retreating on the statement in due course. Have you started your dissertation? Yes, I’ve done around 5,000 words. How are you doing? I just got back from the doctor, I have full-blown chlamydia. These days, few people take what I say at face value; every little thing I say is given a slant of the eye and the need for confirmation.P.18 Dog shit_Oast House Archive

I quickly understood that words are like money. They have value and can be easily used to convince those around us to shape the things we do and think, or the way we act. Like money, their value changes according to how they’re used and who uses them.

Take Katie Hopkins. After a series of disastrous interviews and even more unsettling moments on social media, there are few who attach any value to the toxic waste that comes out of her mouth. Just last week, after watching the pop star performing on television, she asked the poignant question “did Kelly Clarkson eat all of her backing singers?” Whilst everyone is aware words are coming out of her mouth, there is little that will come of them. Her words are the Euro of the English language: it has been abused to such an extent that it has become entirely devalued to the human ear.

Unfortunately, the same analogy could be used to access many of our politicians. Mistrust has run rife through British politics in the past five years with five different versions of the truth being produced on issues as varied as Europe to the NHS. People invest in things that seem stable, or reliable, but the ongoing rhetoric is hard to buy into.

The practice of bullshit can therefore be seen as the best way to weaken words. From the compulsive liar to the Daily Mail columnist, each and every misleading statement made will make an impact on how much people value said person’s statement.

But my experiment in lying has always been an economics experiment designed to understand that, if words can lose their value so quickly, can that value recover equally as quick?

The short answer is no. According to a poll conducted by the BBC, the most trusted people in the UK are those who deal in facts, be it scientists (#8 – Stephen Hawking), newscasters (#11 – Jon Snow) or QI presenters (#4 – Stephen Fry). Unsurprisingly, a similar poll in the United States saw disgraced TV presenter Brian William – who recently lied about an experience he had in Iraq – drop 812 places in the table. People need accurate facts, much like an economy, to trust and invest in people’s words.

The transition from bullshitter to factfeeder is difficult, similar to people’s reluctance to reinvest in a deflated, unreliable economy. Hard work and restructuring of one’s track must be done to convince people otherwise.

So, if a liar’s word has little value and a scientist’s worth a lot, then where does that leave economists, like myself? Well, we also pride ourselves in dealing with facts most of the time; unless it benefits us in some way of course (see Enron, 2008 Financial Crisis, HSBC tax scandal etc.). So where does that leave me? I guess you’ll never really know.

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