Sure, as Doctor House said, “everybody lies.” Politicians, advertisers, corporations, spouses, etc., have always cheated and lied. But, something just seems different these days. Lying – through the teeth, blatantly, and repeatedly – seems to be the new normal in politics and many aspects of public life; and cheating – customers, stockholders, the public – almost acceptable in some quarters. Examples would keep me typing all night. Obama has secret plans to confiscate our guns and regulating health insurers is totalitarianism. You can afford this subprime mortgage. Buy my bond it won’t be worthless in six months trust me. And on and on. In the latest jaw-dropping outrage, it appears that a bunch of banks routinely manipulated a key global interest rate, endangering the whole global economy just to make a few bucks (see links below).
What went wrong? Who’s to blame? One theory is that economic and cultural elites no longer feel connected to the rest of us because they live in their own world of privilege. Another is that the brutal competition caused by rising inequality and stagnant incomes have made us just meaner towards one another. Or, maybe lying and cheating only gets deterred if the liars and cheaters are publicly caught and punished, and that doesn’t happen anymore (because of a lapdog news media, lax government regulation, etc.) Or, maybe this is all overblown and hysterical.
Anyway, on Thursday, I’d love it if we could focus on the question of how elite attitudes towards dishonesty are formed, perpetuated, and altered. Do people really get away with lying and cheating more now than they used to? If so, why, and what will it take to bring elites back to earth? Is it the public’s fault, too?
I’ll open with 5 minutes or less about what I mean here, and then we can debate.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What limits lying and cheating in a society? Social norms? Law? Fear? Religious belief?
- Have we really tipped over into a new cultural norm that permits more cheating and lying? What are the consequences?
- What has changed? Who’s to blame?
- What can be done?
- The interest rate manipulation scandal: “Lying as a business model.” Even The Economist is disgusted.
- Paul Krugman’s view of the Wall Street culture of lying and cheating. Not above criticism, but interesting.
- A scathing indictment of the GOP as a party of lying, from a disillusioned conservative. A must read.
- The new elite consensus that we don’t matter. I recommend.
- Times have changed: It’s OK to Lie in Politics.
- And it works. Focus groups, when told of Romney’s plans to slash social programs AND taxes on the rich, literally refuse to believe it. They cannot imagine any political party would do that.
Hope to see you at our last meeting at the Army Reserve center.