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Category: Soap Box

Soapbox: “In the name of God, go”

The 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche pinpointed the real damage done by telling lies. He said: "I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm ups...

20 January 2022

Gary Mead

The 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche pinpointed the real damage done by telling lies. He said: “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you”. Once uncovered, the liar is marked as untrustworthy for ever more.

We’re all familiar with (and no doubt have used) the “little white lie” that is supposedly harmless and occasionally useful for greasing the wheel of social interaction. The assumption is that by such tiny deceits no harm is done.

But telling the truth is what holds our societies together.

In Britain, we are in the middle of a scandal that threatens to topple the Prime Minister – did he lie to Parliament about what he knew of a drinks party on 20th May 2020 at No. 10 Downing Street, which was held during the first national ‘lockdown’ of the country, to prevent the spread of Covid-19? His former senior adviser Dominic Cummings, whom Johnson sacked and who may therefore be suspected of vindictiveness, says Johnson lied to Parliament, and that he breached the lockdown rules; Johnson should resign. For Cummings, “chaos will continue until he [Johnson] is removed”.

In the context of a serious financial crisis, with inflation now at its highest since 1982 (on both sides of the Atlantic) this might seem a puny storm in a teacup. As the threat from Covid recedes (and the English government prepares to lift the last remaining Covid-19 restrictions on social interaction) then people may dismiss this rule-breaking as unimportant.

Yet one of the Prime Minister’s former allies, the senior MP David Davis, sees the rule-breaking as symptomatic of a wider political failure. Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday this week he said to Johnson: “in the name of God, go”.

Johnson has appointed a senior civil servant to investigate who knew what about a series of parties that allegedly happened in Downing Street and elsewhere in government offices, when the general public were barred from socialising – or even attending unwell and dying members of their family – because of the rules on lockdown.

Just as President Donald Trump became synonymous with scant regard for the truth, so Boris Johnson has notched up an impressive series of apparently misleading claims made in Parliament, all captured on a video by Peter Stefanovic. Johnson’s biggest appeal for his Conservative Party is that he has the knack of winning elections. But he is also dogged by scandal (another characteristic he shares with Trump), and may be running out of lives.

Notoriously, Britain has no written constitution. British political life – the rules governing behaviour – are supervised by the “Bible” of parliamentary procedure, drawn up originally in 1844 by the constitutional theorist and Clerk of the House of Commons, Erskine May. While not law, Erskine May’s conventions have long been accepted regarding the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament. Paragraph 11.40 of his rules stipulates that “ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister”. That’s why John Profumo, then the UK’s (married) minister of defence, resigned in 1963 after it emerged he had lied to Parliament about an affair he’d had with a woman. The Times called the episode “a great tragedy for the probity of public life in Britain”. Ultimately the Profumo affair brought down the Conservative government; Profumo spent his post-political life doing charitable work. He paid the price not for having an affair but for lying to Parliament. In Britain, such lying used to be regarded as a fatal offence. The decline in standards from 1963 to 2022 is notable and alarming. Do politicians and the people they appoint even recognise the truth today?

Declining trust

Governments want and need the trust of their electorates; electorates need to have confidence in their governments, need to feel certain that their interests – that they are safe from crime, protected from invasion, that their money is safe – are looked after by the people and parties in power. Rule-makers must be seen to obey the rules they make; otherwise they will be judged as liars, untrustworthy. If we lose confidence in their honesty or their competence they will not, should not, survive long in power. They will be told “in the name of God, go”.

But what if incompetence, or dishonesty, is becoming embedded? One does not have to be a QAnon supporter to doubt the wisdom and technical ability of governments on both sides of the Atlantic, to ponder how democracies can retain our support, to worry that the current toxicity of politics, with its ubiquitous lying, is spreading, virus-like.

“We really have a collapse of trust in democracies”, according to Richard Edelman, whose Edelman communications group has just published its latest annual Trust Barometer, which this year surveyed more than 36,000 people in 28 countries, in November 2021. “It all goes back to – ‘do you have a sense of economic confidence?'” he added. The biggest losers of public trust over the last year according to this survey were institutions in Germany, down 7 points to 46, Australia at 53 (-6), the Netherlands at 57 (-6), South Korea at 42 (-5) and the United States at 43 (-5).

By contrast, public trust in institutions in authoritarian China stood at 83%, up 11 points, 76% in the United Arab Emirates (+9) and 66% (+5)in Thailand (a “flawed democracy” says the Economist Intelligence Unit). The trillions of dollars of stimulus spent by the world’s richest nations to support their economies through the pandemic have failed to instil a lasting sense of confidence, the survey suggested.

In Japan, only 15% of people believed they and their families would be better off in five years’ time, with most other democracies ranging around 20-40% on the same question. But in China nearly two-thirds were optimistic about their economic fortunes. Edelman says higher public trust levels in China are linked not just to economic perceptions but also to a greater sense of predictability about Chinese policy, not least on the pandemic.

Concerns about “fake news” are at all-time highs, with three-quarters of respondents globally worried about it being “used as a weapon”.

Our finances depend on truth

One of the big lies – or misapprehensions if you wish to be kind – of our political leaders in the past 12 months is that inflation is “transitory”. The chair of the US Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, insisted that inflation was transitory through most of 2021, only saying on 30 November (when it was clear that there was nothing transitory about it) “it’s probably a good time to retire that word”.

In August last year, the Bank of England predicted that the consumer price index inflation (CPI) would reach 4% in late 2021/early 2022 but that it was transitory. Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, has resorted to the word “temporary”. Yet in the US, the UK, and the Eurozone, inflation has steadily and persistently climbed in 2021, to an annualised 7%, 5.4%, and around 5% respectively.

Either the people running our central banks are guilty of lying to us about inflation, perhaps to avoid causing distress, or they simply do not understand what is causing it. From the price of the durum wheat that is used to make pasta, to the prices of natural gas and crude oil, prices are still moving higher; in the UK, tax rates will shortly go up; wage demands will inevitably rise as people struggle to pay their bills. “It’s across the board, from house prices to wages in certain sectors, energy prices, prices of food, prices of goods”, according to Jim O’Neill, the former Goldman Sachs chief economist and commercial secretary to the UK Treasury. He adds: “it’s the first time we’ve seen a number of factors that drove 1960s and 1970s inflation, all occurring at the same time”.

Central bankers (and the governments behind them) are facing an extremely difficult year. Inflation is threatening to get out of control and probably already has when it comes to house prices; the median cost of buying versus the median wage is approaching ten times earnings, a level not reached since the late 19th-century, when about two million people lived as servants in other people’s houses. The divide between the haves and have-nots is vast and growing bigger; no wonder younger people are turning to cryptocurrencies in the hope of getting rich quick.

The only tool available to central banks to combat inflation is higher interest rates. Yet given that so much of the current inflation is a result of the explosive money supply which they have meekly acquiesced to in the last two years, it’s not clear that higher interest rates will quell the pent-up inflation. Meanwhile the purchasing power of fiat money will be eroded still further – perhaps by 7% this year in the UK.

The biggest lie of all is not about drinks parties during lockdown, but that our fiat money is in good hands. Glint – the payment system that allows its clients to use gold as money – was created to give everyone an alternative to fiat currencies. We believe it gives us all a chance to start being more honest about money and value. Nietzsche was right. We need some form of money that will not be subjected to the lies of governments, not least to shore up our confidence in democratic values.

At Glint, we make every effort to demonstrate a balanced conversation between gold, crypto and fiat currencies when it comes to purchasing power and, while we strongly believe that gold is the fairest and most reliable currency on the planet, we need to point out that it isn’t 100% risk free. While we have seen a steady increase over time, the value of gold can fall, which means that its purchasing power can also decline. Yet last year’s decline of about 4% in the Dollar price of gold – the first decline after two stonkingly good years – still beats the 7% decline in purchasing power of fiat Dollars.

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