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The Civilization Crisis: Post-Factual Criticism of Politics

by Rudolf Hickel Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017 at 2:43 PM

In Trumponomics, falling tax rates for businesses should increase tax revenues. When businesses do not invest in an under-financed infrastructure, the tax gifts lead to lower stater spending and higher stater debts at the end.


By Rudolf Hickel

[This article published in December 2016 is translated from the German on the Internet.]

The word of the year "post-factual" is a bulky artificial word (Kunstwort). In his 2004 book "The Post-Truth Era," Ralph Keynes described this "age after truth" as a fire risk for society. This age is formulated with assertions on all planes of politics that cannot be proven above all against the opponent. Less elegantly, it is formulated with lies to generate aggressive opinions against the establishment. Years ago, the brilliant social philosopher Jurgen Habermas introduced a more exact adjective counter-factual for statements without a basis in truth.

That lies occur in politics and in public arguments and that crackpots disturbed by truth can spread their abstruse theses are not new. What is new and dangerous in the age of the dissemination of untruths? Recently, election campaigns have been won with half-truths and lies about important social and ecological challenges. The goal is the personalized denunciation of the adversary in the political confrontation. However, the possibility of spreading this anti-factual smear campaign over social media like Facebook and Twitter is new. Limits can hardly be set to the violation of personality rights fixed in the German Basic Law with these fire accelerators.

Examples of the success of this disinhibited brainwashing are well-known. There is Donald Trump who won the US presidential election and the Brexit referendum passed with a slight majority in Great Britain. The right-wing populist AfD (Alternative for Germany) uses counter-factual assertions on a large scale to trigger aggressions and discriminations against social groups.

Different instruments can be used for contemptuous opinion manipulation. Half-truths and complete lies are in the center. In the election campaign, Trump was a mast4er of using this instrument. Abstruse threats by migrants and the socially weak were fomented. Economically the national screening of the US in favor of "America first" is carried out with targeted false assertions. The losers of this return to US imperialism in their own country are consciously suppressed. The narrow success for Brexit can also only be understood through fears about the "expensive" and "manipulative" EU fomented by lies. The inductive reasoning according to the motto: `when some migrants commit offenses, then all refugees are criminal' is popular. In the fatal logic of Trumpian economics, Trumponomics, society thrives when individual businesses increase. Fallacies are used in the post-actual age and are a popular instrument in Trumponomics. So falling tax rates for businesses altogether should increase tax revenues. If the hoped-for economic impulse does not arrive because businesses do not invest in an under-financed infrastructure, then these tax gifts at the end lead to lower state spending or higher state debts.

The question is raised more urgently than ever how obscuring with post-factual assertions can be broken. It is important to note the real cause is not in the social media. These are only used for the massive dissemination of lies. The source of the counter-factual is the pent-up frustration over the politics of those "up above." It is the authoritarian diffuse "political correctness" that produced the post-factual era. With many positive benefits, official politics often stands in contradiction to the facts. When the fact that poor children are disadvantaged in the educational system is denied in official politics, that is the humus for the propagandistic reproach of a "politics of lies." This truth was not taken up in the new Poverty Report for Germany published by the German government and the German Labor ministry.

Politics must finally name the concrete conditions by name and show how they can be combated. Right-wing populist critics misuse the anxieties of the disadvantaged, not the anxieties of those "above." The social misery is instrumentalized in the media when there is no political intention of doing anything against this. The distress of the impacted is politically misused. The dilemma between the obscuring of truth through "political correctness" and the instrumentalization by anti-democratic forces can only be broken by a politics oriented in enlightenment and discourse. Only in this way can the material be taken away from the social media. At the very first, the social media must guarantee the protection of personality.


By Lisa Kolde and Hannes Bohne

Paradigm: Many economists understand their discipline as a technique that can best describe reality. That is false. Economics lacks an empirical foundation. It needs a corrective.

[This article published on 12/27/2016 is translated from the German on the Internet. Lisa Kolde and Hannes Bohne are members of the Plural Economics Network in Austria.]

Economic fluctuations are predicted every day and influences of tax increases on the gross domestic product are calculated for the coming year. Many economic models have pompous high-sounding claims. In particular, the domineering neoclassical theory tries to calculate human conduct in economic situations with mathematical models. However, the arising political-economic recommendations often ignore the life reality of the impacted people.

Then claim of being the only method describing connections in the economy has stood behind model thinking for 150 years. However, this claim lacks an empirical foundation. A glance at the genesis of neoclassical theory in the 19th century demonstrates this. The first models of neoclassicism came from modern physics, not from reflections on economic processes. Mathematical models were not present in classical national economics before 1870 as they are today. The economy was a question of moral philosophy, always tied to concrete political and social processes. Economists today present their findings in the garb of exact numbers and formulae that supposedly have nothing to do with opinions.

Why did early neoclassical economists take physical models as the basis of their research? One reason was the triumphant advance of mathematical natural sciences. Galilee could first confirm his findings of the earth turning around the sun through the invention of the telescope. Developed modern natural science stood out from past speculations by empirical certainty. Early natural scientists poured their findings into general natural laws with the help of mathematics and models. The technology that is now developing was one of many advantages of this new foundation.

The enthusiasm about exact statements seized the founders of neoclassical economic theory. Just like natural scientists, they sought to develop a strict mathematical science that describes economic conduct exactly and develops models that can predict changes on this theoretical foundation.

Neoclassicism developed with a momentous difference. While natural scientists empirically confirmed their theories by means of experiments, the first neoclassicists worked with purely theoretical reflections. Any possibility for testing the validity of their theories was lacking since human actions cannot always be repeated in the same framework.


The reality-reference of the assumptions moved to the background with time. Results from thought experiments were treated like results of genuine experiments and ultimately postulated as a strange form of truth that is essential today for economics. The assumption that every individual strives for the maximum benefit is a recurring example for that.

The basic problem of modern neoclassicism lies in the quality of thought experiments compared to actual experiments in natural science. An empirical foundation is lacking to most economic theories. They are based on suppositions on how humans and the economy function, not on facts.

That is one reason for technocratic economic recommendations that pass by human cares and needs. A technical economics cannot grasp these points. It needs a corrective. Philosophy, ethics, sociology and different economic theories can set the framework for critically questioning the work with models. A pluralism makes plural economics out of economics. These have a multitude of aspects and are much nearer reality.

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