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September 11, 2017




There's not much difference between a pre-industrial and a post industrial society. As the industrial base withers (a la Minford), a post industrial society will become more peasant-like. Voodoo beliefs will proliferate, as they do in most peasant societies.

Moreover, why should schools emphasise the teaching of Maths and Science (logic and facts based) when pupils are unlikely to need this knowledge in their post-industrial working lives? The road to peasantry is self-reinforcing.

Still, look at it from the toffs' point of view - it's much easier to govern or control peasants who believe any old superstitious, or irrational, nonsense served up by the ruling class. Could this be a reason why manufacturing is disliked by our wealthy alleged "betters"?


Interesting thought. Another related explanation linking industrial decline might be the disintegration of social and political structures (trade unions etc). These facilitated knowledge transmission, and their decline without replacement by equivalent knowledge transmitting social structures means politics is dominated by atomised individuals who can't gather reliable info, check reliability through communication etc.


Hi Chris.
Maybe I have another supporting argument. In manufacturing you try to understand all your processes. To do this you constantly monitor and test. You only make incremental changes. You fully test out major changes before implimentation. Why do this level of work? Because if you introduce an error the consequences are huge. Think of Dell batteries. You ensure you have a high level of fact finding to give you confidence before making changes because of the high level of investment. These principles are taught in college and industry. As a voter if you make a mistake your country does not go bankrupt it just suffers a knock which you personally will probably not notice. So the consequences of choosing false lies in politics is not that big. Over time I imagine it does add up. So you have to feel really sorry for future generations. MPC

Mike Berry

The first part of your argument - relating to deindustrialisation- is probably a bit of a stretch as there are lots of 3rd variables that could be working. Here's a few:

1) The Bullshit industries - The UK and USA - the developed countries where post-truth is perhaps most prevalent - lead the world in the Bullshit industries - advertising, marketing and particularly public relations.

2) Inequality - although most people in developed countries can theoretically access all the wonders of the WWW and do their own research and fact checking, in practice both the motivation and skills to do this are heavily stratified by income and education levels. So in unequal countries we might expect post-truth to catch on more.

3) Trust and faith in the political system and politicians. This tends to correlate strongly with 2)- unequal societies are low trust societies - so they are confounding.

You are probably on stronger ground with your comments regarding the emergence of technologies which facilitate post-truth.


Interesting. But it seems to me that post-truth politics is taking root mainly in areas that did not fare well in the post-industrial economy. If London and New York are centres of successful post industrial economy, it doesn't appear that londoners or new Yorkers are especially vulnerable to post-truth media and politicians, if anything it's the other way around.


An alternative explanation - society is facing some difficult challenges (which possibly mean sacrifices by certain sections of the population)and post-truth politics is a way of avoiding these challenges.

Saying that it was an established fact that Iraq had WMD was an easier option than saying that the USA was going to invade Iraq because it felt like it and didn't have a plan (because that would mean the UK had to rethink its relationship with the USA).

Saying that traffic congestion in London is because of immigration avoids facing up to the fact that, in a dense vibrant city like London, people will need to be strongly encouraged to walk and use public transport: telling drivers that they shouldn't assume they have a right to drive around in London could trigger an emotional response.

I once heard a talk about climate change by George Osborne's father-in-law, Lord Howell. It was difficult to follow the logic of what he was saying, but somebody in the oil industry told me afterwards that he was telling the oil industry that changing their business model was too difficult so they should assume climate change was a myth.

Patrick Kirk

"People who complain about a "Post-truth" dynamic tend to be arguing that no amount of facts will persuade people to change their beliefs. Your last post about immigration was a case in point. No amount of learned research or useful facts will persuade people that the laws of supply and demand do not apply to wages/labour costs.


I linked is from 1845 so the problem was in full swing of the Industrial age. A very similiar stubbornness of belief underlies the arguments about climate change and the EU. It seems for vast numbers of people, their own lived experience trumps expert opinion.

So I don't think its linked to leaving the manufacturing age. Very thought provoking idea though - thanks :-)


Not sure this is consistent:

"And Kelvin Mackenzie’s Sun did in the 80s pretty much what Breitbart does now."


"Breitbart or the Canary probably could not have emerged in a time when you needed to spend millions on printing presses and when the established press had strong brand loyalty."

Ralph Musgrave

Very interesting point by Chris in the above article.

It should be possible to test his hypothesis, if only in a rough and ready way, by seeing whether those who have studied science at school or uni are better able to distinguish truth from fiction than those who have studied an arts subject. I suspect they are because those doing a science subject are taught what an experiment is, what statistical significance is, what double blind is, and so on.

Dave Timoney

Let me put an opposing view ...

The shift from manufacturing to services has been paralleled by an increase in cognitive labour. This is because services tend to require more flexibility and interpretation, and because consumers place greater value on customisation (this has even fed back into manufacturing, where variety and build-to-order is now commonplace). The growth in cognitive labour is both cause and effect in the growth of data.

This demand for greater flexibility in the production and delivery of both goods and services has encouraged a move away from hierarchical control in task management (self-managing teams on production lines and artisan bakers have this much in common). More workers today are doing jobs where they have to exercise judgement, and this is independent of the compositional switch between manufacturing and services. Were these workers to rely on belief over evidence, you'd expect the results to be poorer.

The development of process analysis in manufacturing (and empirical techniques like SPC and Six Sigma), which mpc refers to, only gained traction in the West at the point that manufacturing started to go into decline, i.e. the 1970s & 80s, having been road-tested in Japan by the likes of Deming and Juran during that country's reconstruction in the 1950s & 60s. Before then the dominant regime was Taylorism, which focused on task sub-division and the minimisation of labour autonomy.

An alternative theory for the rise of "post-truth" politics is that people have come to value their own opinions (however formed) more highly than before, which may be partly attributable to the way that increased demand for judgement in the workplace has boosted confidence, though I suspect the wider social trend of greater individualism (and narcissism) has perhaps played a larger part.

Ralph's point about the intrinsic difference between science and arts grads is arguably the wrong way round as regards political utility. The humanities teach you how to potentially resolve conflicting claims where conclusive evidence is lacking, as it is in many real world situations. Arts grads don't have a contempt for facts (for example, any half-decent historian employs empirical techniques), but equally they don't have a contempt for fiction.


Interesting suggestion.
It relates to the T Veblen discussion of "Engineers" driving production and rentiers targeting status instead.
Also to R Feynman's quote that “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled”.


«point about the intrinsic difference between science and arts grads is arguably the wrong way round as regards political utility. The humanities teach you how to potentially resolve conflicting claims where conclusive evidence is lacking, as it is in many real world situations.»

A moden philosopher, Chaim Perelman, has written some very interesting works about this. His points seem to me these:

* Cartesian rationalism has resulted in the abandonment of a large part of knowledge to purely irrational discourse, because it cannot be handled by deduction from self-evident (or at least generally agreed) first principles.

* However some or most areas of knowledge to which cartesian discourse cannot be applies are not hopelessly irrational: they can be still be subjected to rational discourse, even if based on calls of judgement rather than deduction from principles.

* Therefore there is an ample scope for discourse based in well-informed guesses, to be evaluated as to the quality of their judgement in light of the context, rather than the correctness of their first principles and chain of deductions.

For for history as in the example: historical analysis cannot be developed as discovering natural laws by discovering first principles and then deriving conclusions from them, yet not all historical works have the same value, some seem much better calls of judgement than others, given the context (data, documents, existing insights).

Rakesh Bhandari

Perhaps the decline of the idea of progress is also tied up with deindustrialization.

In manufacturing you are looking for ways to reduce error rates, use inputs more efficiently, and reduce time required to complete an operation. This becomes possible by better understanding, and improvements are objectively measurable.

The manufacturing is thus tied up with the idea of objective progress.

Perhaps then our period is not only post-truth but also post-progress.

Patrick Kirk

Sorry to comment twice but the topic really gripped me.

"Science progresses one funeral at a time." -- Max Planck

It seems that refusal to accept an expert interpretation of facts is not just a problem in politics but also in science. Long ago I read "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Kuhn and the thing that stuck in my mind is that generations of scientists live happily with illogical theories contradicted by facts. Currently we see this with dietary advice which everyone knows is a mess but a decent paradigm hasn't come along to replace it.

Now what puzzles me is how come people ever agree to change their minds at all? How did we move from a society where slavery was fine and abortion a crime to one where abortion is fine and slavery a crime in less than 250 years? Not to mention the change in attitudes to homosexuality over the last 25 years? How does that happen when people are so hard to persuade about other topics?

Mike Berry

"Now what puzzles me is how come people ever agree to change their minds at all? How did we move from a society where slavery was fine and abortion a crime to one where abortion is fine and slavery a crime in less than 250 years? Not to mention the change in attitudes to homosexuality over the last 25 years? How does that happen when people are so hard to persuade about other topics?"

But you are dealing here with changes in values rather than disputes over facts.


"Maybe the Industrial Revolution strengthened respect for facts and evidence, a respect that’s declining in our post-industrial age."

I guess it all depends on where the facts and evidence are coming from, and which facts are emphasised and which are ignored. You can be dishonest without ever telling an out and out lie. Look at the difference between the news coverage of the sieges of Aleppo and Mosul, not to mention the total absence of wide-eyed Yemeni children from our screens.

I think you have a point (an engineer gets things wrong, people die en masse, a social scientist advising government gets things wrong, people die one at a time and the deaths can be ignored), but I'm not sure how important a factor it is. An obvious test - how's respect for facts and evidence compare in China, Japan and Korea?


Those versed in folkloristics would probably take the view that the Industrial Revolution did not eradicate previously widespread, empirically false beliefs nearly as much as is implied here.

"On these very islands there are fast trains running beside, and sometimes even above, holy wells, and many a man may use the train, nay, may drive its engine, and yet believe in ghosts or the banshee." (Alexander Haggerty Krappe, The Science of Folk-Lore, 1930, p. xviii)

Also, while present-day China, Japan and Korea were already mentioned above, we might throw in Nazi Germany too: a society whose simultaneous embrace of ultra-modern industry and a bizarre pre-modern belief system has been much remarked upon.


«the Industrial Revolution did not eradicate previously widespread, empirically false beliefs nearly as much as is implied here.»

Even a small-ish shift from make-believe thinking to try-it-and-see can have profound consequences though. Also because of various mechanisms: for example if the try-it-and-see people get richer they get more political power and can then shift the general tenor of culture, even metaphysics/religion.
Today's preachers are the sell-side Economists, and they preach that it is not God that "ordered their estate" of the The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate", but "The Markets", and that the greatest sin is not to love "The Markets" and oppose them.


Hi Chris,
Your suggestion has famous antecedents:-


(If the link doesn't work, search Carl Sagan quote manufacturing)

Nick Drew

Loads of inputs here towards a possible thesis. Here are a couple more.

(1) "It’s a commonplace that the Industrial Revolution grew from the scientific revolution and Enlightenment. But mightn’t the causality run both ways?" Absolutely. Watt's critical steam-engine breakthrough, far from being a product of the science of the day, actually defied it & forced radical re-thinking. Practical stuff very often precedes theory.

(2) Some proponents of IT as a learning tool say computing offers a similar 'hard-facts + feedback' discipline to the physical world of hard knocks. One small mistake in (e.g.) a line of code or a password to gain access to an internet banking account, and it can be curtains for what you've tried to do. So - you learn to get it right. And plenty of folks - kids very much included - in our society are subject to this discipline everyday. (But as fuzzy logic gets better, the discipline gets weaker ...)

(3) A parallel phenomenon to de-industrialisation is the elf'n'safety-based discouragement of children from getting out there with (e.g.) the Boy Scouts en masse, learning how to live under the stars / use an axe / set a fire / cook a rabbit / take some real physical risks etc. Plenty of hard knocks + meaningful feedback to be had there. (That's enough of the sniggering in the back.) Baden-Powell had this in mind all along.


Hmm, interesting hypotheses, but does it stand up over a longer period.
For example, 1930's Germany probably had a very high proportion of its workforce employed in manufacturing, but that did not stop the population being swayed by Hitler's emotional propaganda.

I put forward alternative proposition: mainstream commentators and politicians have, increasingly, systematically used facts selectively, used spin, and mislead the electorate. By legitimising the selective use of facts, they have left the door open for such as Trump to do the same.

Anomalous Cowshed

Nicholas, IIRC, according to Adam Tooze in The Wages of Destruction, Germany's workforce was mainly agricultural.

OTOH, I would certainly agree with your second point. The buggers have been badly found out, and are whining about it.

Patrick : "Now what puzzles me is how come people ever agree to change their minds at all? How did we move from a society where slavery was fine and abortion a crime to one where abortion is fine and slavery a crime in less than 250 years?"

It would be somewhat, umm, embarrassing, if post-truth politics were partially down to universal suffrage...

Arthur Murray

Nicholas and Anomalous Cowshed: Adolf Hitler did not mince his words when it came to effective propaganda. I took this quote from the Politics News UK blog:

"The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan … How fortunate for leaders that men do not think."

Mein Kampf


Would this not imply that older voters in former manufacturing areas would be most resistant to Trump, brexit and post fact politics in general?


@ dsquared - not necessarily. Their support for Trump/Brexit might have been due not (just) to them being taken in by lies but to a desire (albeit IMO mistaken) for change, driven by the tendency for losers to want to gamble to break even.
It's likely the case that (at least in the UK) such voters are not the ones propagating post-truth politics; I suspect they are less likely to rely on "alternative" media and less likely to share fake news on Facebook.
They are the victims of post-truth politics, not the agents.

Lidl Janus

"Now, I stress all this is just a theory. Feel free to offer some discorroborative evidence."

Not claiming a definitive counter-narrative, but I'd say this against: Brexit, Trump, and the Conservative victories in 2015 and 2017 were decided by those over 45 (and in the latter case, if we believe YouGov, the 'crossover' was 47). This all suggests there's a fulcrum of sorts between those born before and after 1970.

We could then infer that Brexit/Trump in particular represents a collective extinction burst from older generations against the urban, multicultural, internationalist, cosmopolitan setup represented by the EU/Clinton/Labour. If the fulcrum point is roughly 1970, and it can't move too much either way, then a lot of this populism is doomed in the long run*. Brexit/Trump/Con17 all had thin margins in any case (Trump loses 74 electoral votes in a 1% swing against him); the 'long run' could be the next time of asking for each of them.

*inevitable Keynes quote notwithstanding.

Arthur Murray

Lidl Janus -- In 1992 John Major won a 21-seat majority for the Conservatives in the general election.
In the six subsequent elections they have never bettered that result.


I'm honestly disinclined to agree with this idea, in part due to some of the reasons stated above.

There are a lot of manufacturing-intensive countries--now and historically--where social facts are just as malleable as they are in us newly-deindustrialized nations. The idea of objective verifiability is intuitively understood to be bound to some areas of life, and not all, whether or not that intuition really is correct.

I tend to lean more on the emphasis on individuality and the subjectivity of experience as the leading cause of this post-truth world. Working in an emergency room in a part of the U.S. which arguably led the deindustrialization drive several decades ahead of the Rust Belt, where service industries aren't really that strong, and the social crisis of opioid dependence is in full force--New Hampshire--I hear more than anything else that chronic pain is the primary issue.

And that's the thing about pain: it's a subjective, psychological experience. We don't have any true measure for pain. There are associated physiological indicators, but no direct measure, no neurochemical which codes directly to pain. Ergo, we rely on subjective assessment; however, one person's 10/10 pain is often visibly indistinct from another's 2/10 pain. Yet because there's no way to measure how much pain a person is actually in, we medicate for pain based on self-reporting. Hence--in part--the opioid crisis.

Because we have, for decades in the West, put so much emphasis on the ultimate validity of individual, subjective experience, all the world suddenly becomes subject to the same type of judgment. This has had some positive outcomes, as the advancement of the populations whose subjective experience was previously totally ignored (women, and minorities of all stripes) shows. However, there is an end to this constant cutting-down of social groups into smaller and smaller pieces.

Just as no manager can know everything about the processes he/she overseas, no individual can be sufficiently introspective enough to gain an objective understanding of their own thoughts.

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