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March 14, 2017


Patrick Kirk

For me, the eye opener is that 50,000 out of 1.4 million are politically engaged. If only 3.5% of people care about politics and an even smaller group of us politicis nerds care about facts, the real question is what is it that motivates people to vote one way or another. Is it tribal loyalty as in "Dad votes Labour so I will do the same"? Or is the American theory that people vote with their pocket books as in "I am £100 per month better off so I will re-elect the government?" Or what?

Dave Timoney

I am not convinced of Harford's argument, nor your gloss on it, not least because it displays the characteristics of Hirschman's rhetoric of reaction: perversity, futility and jeopardy.

The backfire effect may be real, but not every debunking produces a perverse outcome. Ostentatiously calling out the likes of Hopkins and Milo may often be counter-productive virtue-signalling, but suing the one and hoisting the other by his own petard seems to have been of some value recently.

Harford's story about Big Tobacco ignores the central "fact": that despite decades of obfuscation, smoking went into steady decline from the moment that the evidence of its link with cancer was published. The facts weren't futile - they simply took a while to impact, which probably reflected generational habits as much as the temporary manufacture of doubt.

The implicit jeopardy, in Harford's words, is that "More facts mean more grist to the motivated reasoning mill". In other words, we must avoid inciting the mob with our expertise for fear they go full Fascist. This strikes me as just another example of liberal pearl-clutching. It comes as no surprise that he advocates de haut en bas propaganda: "What we need is a Carl Sagan or David Attenborough of social science".

I agree with your central point that we need to change the agenda, but I doubt this would lead to general enlightenment and sweet reason. There were plenty of rightist rentagobs with something to say about stagnation and "the right to manage" in the 70s, suggesting that wherever you shift the argument the reaction will produce new counter-arguments and advocates. That said, anything that marginalises David Goodhart is surely a good thing.

PS: @Patrick Kirk, the finding was that 96% of people didn't consume "enough serious news", not that they were politically disengaged. See what they did there?

gastro george

Isn't this just a re-hash of the old Reagan quote “If you're explaining, you're losing.”?

I kind of agree, because if you're talking about something, you're signifying it's importance. But as FATE points out, facts can win in the long term.

What's certainly true is that dignifying right-wing arguments through spurious balance, or through expressions of Real Concerns, is a fool's game.

Tynnie Todgers

It won't work. Because the real experts - who've fought and lost the battles on the shop floor - know globalisation and immigration aren't separate or separable issues. Looking for statistical correlations with immigrant density is looking at the tip of the iceberg and reveals ignorance of how the race to the bottom works. If I become available to do your job for less, you won't hold out for more. Voila - stagnant wages - regardless of whether I actually take your job or move next door.

Ditto the idea that globalisation is insignificant next to de-unionisation. Globalisation chopped the unions off at the knees. Try unionising a shop now and they just threaten to move the shop to wherever the cheap labour is.

Anyone who denies that vastly widening the pool of cheap labour depresses wages really ought to consider crossing the floor.

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