Fear, Faulty Facts, & Fake Fronts

fear, faulty facts, false front

So many of us sit in front of screens – our eyes glued to the latest on the stock market.  We gasp and shutter at each rise and fall. At the end of the day, we speculate on the causes. We try to imagine future positions. 

We brace for losses at each turn; at every leap, we celebrate gains.  With bated breath, we search for signs of what’s to come. We watch for when to move in. We wait for when to pull out. The last thing we need is someone making things more nervous. The last thing we need is fear, faulty facts, & fake fronts.

Fear

When historian Arthur Herman threw out the idea of a market crash in his WSJ opinion piece, I almost choked. A what?  Today’s stock market is like the stock market in 1929?  With my face white with fright, I pulled up my portfolio. My funds were down a bit that week. Then, they were up.  The DOW was down for a while. Then up. 

Nothing much happened. The financial news mentioned volatility but also stabilization. There were reasons to be concerned and to be relieved. “The market tends to recover quickly from even the most dramatic crashes,” Town notes. His discussion of stock market crashes throughout history contain details and references.

Herman himself stated that doomsday predictions are often unreliable.  “Intellectuals have been predicting the imminent collapse of Western civilization for more than 150 years.” (Herman). I knocked on wood. It was a just fear. I spit three times at the thought. Then, I became startled again. This time at Herman’s use of faulty facts.

Faulty Facts

Most people agree. Opinions presented alongside facts have more merit than opinions without facts.  Herman brings authenticity to his piece. He includes factual references in his discussion. The facts that he presents, however, don’t relate to the opinions that he projects.

Herman cites facts from articles by McKinsey and Summer and Cutler. The articles discuss the impact of Covid on the economy. Then, he expresses an opinion about the impact of the Covid policies on the economy. The effects of Covid and the effect of Covid policies are different topics.

Herman uses “The Great Confinement” to refer to the government’s lockdown and shutdown policies. His opinion is that the policies had a terrible effect on the economy. “The governments responsible for the Great Confinement managed to do lasting damage to their nations’ economies. (Herman)

Then, he follows up with a fact about the effect of Covid – not of Covid policies. “According to the consulting firm McKinsey, the global economy could suffer up to $35 trillion in losses by 2025.” (Herman). The facts discuss inflation. The government’s influence includes inflation as well as services like vaccinations and testing.

In another example, Herman begins with a fact about Covid. “​​In the Journal of the American Medical Association, former Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Harvard Professor David Cutler called Covid “the greatest threat to prosperity and well-being the U.S. has encountered since the Great Depression.”

Then, he states an opinion on Covid policies. “Unfortunately, the Great Confinement didn’t work.” (Herman)

We don’t try to fix the brakes on a car by changing with the wipers. An opinion on one topic isn’t supported by facts on another. Herman starts with fear. Then, he follows up with faulty facts. Finally, he creates a fake front with sweeping generalities.

A Fake Front

A large group of people rarely feel the same way about the same thing. Consequently, it is wise to avoid “everyone ” and “all” when making statements. Saying “many” or “most” is more truthful since there’s always someone that doesn’t fit the mold. In his opening remarks, Herman’s refers to the faith of all people everywhere.

Instead of referring to “the faith of many”, Herman claims that everyone’s faith in government is wrecked when he writes: “…the ‘Great Confinement’—in the form of lockdowns, shutdowns and mandates—wrecked faith in the basic competence of American government.”

According to the data, the American people don’t fit into that category. All the people in the country don’t feel the same way. In fact, Fortune’s poll shows that a majority of Americans initially supported the stay-at-home orders.

All of the American people didn’t all lose faith in government either. America’s trust in government didn’t suddenly fall. Data shows that the people’s trust has been on a steady downward trend before Covid. Since Covid, trust in government actually rose slightly. Herman’s generalizations take away from his credibility and also contradict data.

Overgeneralizations

Instead of writing “many governments” or “many citizens”, Herman declares that all governments everywhere sought to bully all citizens with Covid-related policies. He writes: “The pandemic tempted governments and their elite allies to treat citizens as passive objects to be dictated to, bullied and coerced en masse.”

Realistically, governments and citizens around the world don’t all have exactly the same motivations or feelings. Also, Herman as one person cannot possibly know what all governments sought to do. He cannot know how all citizens feel. Yet, he makes these claims.

Data contradicts the uniformity that Herman presents. Polls show that people have differing view on Covid policies in the UK and in Europe. Like in the US, the populations are divided. A narrow majority in the UK supported the lockdown in January 2021 and also the removal of the lockdown five months later.

Herman’s view that all people lost faith in government also contradicts polls. Accordingly, sixty four percent of Europeans maintained trust in the motivations of their leaders during the lockdowns.

Exaggerations

Herman’s presentation of government in his opinion piece suggests that every aspect of its leadership is all-bad all of the time. He writes: “In the U.S., the Great Confinement has left scars on the national psyche comparable to the effects of the Great Depression.”

Referring to “government” as simply evil all of the time is inaccurate. Undoubtedly, there are moments when the laws and the policies serve the public. This type of demonization discourages people from participating in government. The exaggerated portrayal also prevents people from seeing the actual problems in the system. People can’t address issues that they don’t recognize.

Sure, a government can be dangerous. Projecting an overly negative view of government can be dangerous in its implications. People can use an extreme scenario to justify extreme acts. We should take care that our “long established” government is not “changed for light and transient causes.” or as a result of a writer’s irresponsible use of fear, faulty facts, and fake fronts.

Thank you for reading. Double thanks for following me here.

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