The Economics of Post-Factual Democracy – University of Copenhagen

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The Economics of Post-Factual Democracy

Round-up / CIBS Conference February 2017

Conference theme - CIBS PhD Mads Vestergaard:

This is post-factual democracy emerging in front of us.

In post-factual democracy, opportune narratives replace facts and evidence as basis for political debate and policymaking. Facts and evidence lose their authority in a battlefield where everything is politicized. In post-factual democracy, facts are cherry-picked to suit one’s political opinion and agenda. Here, it is not only opinions that are chosen, but the facts too. But is this freedom to create one’s own comfortable reality not just liberating? A democratization of knowledge and facts? Why is post-factuality a problem? Because post-factuality undermines our ability to solve the grand challenges that we are currently facing. If scientific knowledge is not granted epistemic authority, acting effectively on the climate crises, increasing inequality and instability, to mention a few, is not possible. So, what to do? To begin to try to answer that question is a main reason, we are gathered here:

  • How are we to understand the mechanisms and the environment facilitating post-factual democracy?  
  • Is it possible to intervene without undermining freedom of speech?
  • How can we connect journalism, politics and science closer to the reality and the challenges, we are facing?
  • How to navigate this post-factual environment of mistrust without polarizing even more?
  • How to grant authority to facts, scientific evidence and the institutions providing them without ending up advocating a technocracy where experts rule?
  • How to balance granting authority to the facts on the one hand and on the other being humble and open to other perspectives that researchers and experts might have missed?
  • How to provide expertise in democracies?  

Questions like these are just some of those that are to be answered, if we are to preserve civilization, enlightenment and democracy in the long run.

Selected quotes from the conference keynote speakers’ presentations.

Find all full presentations in our conference video archive here

DIDIER SORNETTE, Professor of Entrepreneurial Risks and Finance, ETH Zurich
”We are still kicking the can down the road, hoping for growth to resume.”

”We need something else than monetary policy and fiscal policy. I propose we need innovation policy, and this has not been discussed. We need an innovation policy at the level of World War II effort. We need a World War III without a war.”

S. M. AMADAE, University of Helsinki and MIT
”We cannot just fast-forward to Brexit and Trump, because both of those political outcomes are the result of an intense set of circumstances that would have led people to even think or vote in that way.” ”We can see post-truth as an exercise of power.”

”In a post-truth system, the content to truth claims itself is just subject to ’what pays’. Truth is subject to market forces.”

ALEXANDER HEFFNER, Anchor, The Open Mind, Chan­nel Thirteen, PBS
“What was practiced [by the American media during the campaign] was a focus on ratings, a focus on poll numbers, a focus on superficial stories that were not really getting at the hearth even of the blue collar angst that should have been the dominant story. But it should have been the dominant story through the public policies, not through the entertainment lens.”

“There have been multiple instances where claims made by the president in the last months – or his senior aides – that have been debunked. These falsehoods have been so explicit and so blatant that it can’t really be compared to anything that we have seen from prior politicians. I think for that reason you have to go back to the model on which Trump thrives as a candidate and now president. And that is: incoherence, mayhem. There is a strategy behind it and that is to have no strategy. For there to be shock and awe in the sheer pandemonium of the experience. And that gives you as a critic or as a media observer or fact checker very little room to have the attention of the electorate, when you are fact checking multiple statements in a short time span. That is a challenge to which we don’t have a prescription for.”

ROB JOHNSON, Institute President, Institute for New Economic Thinking, Senior Fellow and Director, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute
“Donald Trump is not yet the cause. He is the effect”

“I believe that the void Donald Trump filled was a void in the United States of information and truth avoidance by elites who were aspiring to please a plutocracy. There are eight people in the United States – six from the Walton Walmart family and the two Koch brothers – who are worth more than the 44 percent of the American people. 44 percent of roughly 300 million people have less net worth than eight people. And as you know from our supreme court and everything else, money matter in politics. Money matters in university endowments. Our public education system is being devastated. Our meritocracy depend on admission to elite institutions and if you are sitting on the side of that process, like my friends who stayed in Detroit when I left and went to MIT and Princeton, you are raging mad because the game is not fair. And Donald Trump may not have the prescriptions for the healing of our society [...] But boy oh boy did he diagnose what these people were feeling.”

DAVID LANDO, Professor of Finance and Director of Center for Financial Frictions (FRIC), Copenhagen Business School
“Of course, our agenda should reflect lesson from the crisis, and we should keep worrying about many of the warnings signals we see, but our toolbox is enormous still. So there is lot to be done in research and policy. Yes, finance has is shares of scandals and bad practices. Within all the categories that are listed there are bad examples and things that we want to try to avoid. Therefore we need regulation because confidence is very important in this system.”

“So I’m arguing that we’ve been post-factual – or non-factual – in many areas of the debate about finance for a long time. And we need to apply the same standards to our own reasoning or in our own comfort zone about things we have strong opinions about.”

HENRIK WEGENER, Rector, University of Copenhagen.
“Science does the risk assessment, politics does the risk management, and everything in between is risk communication.

“Science is not truth. Science may be able to, at some point in time, give the least imperfect picture of what we believe is an approximation of something that you might consider true -- or truthful enough to make political decisions. But the truth changes all the time, because the scientific data are piled up and we have to accept that that’s how science works. Which confuses scientists very much.”

WILLIAM H. JANEWAY, Managing Director Technology, Media and Telecommunications, Warburg Pincus, London, New York, Visiting Lecturer in Economics at the University of Cambridge
“We live in a paradox of politics today. A world in which on the one hand the re-establishment of political authority is necessary to deal with the consequences of the end of globalization, at the same time as governments, political regimes are suffering crises of credibility across certainly the developed world. I speak of this as the anxieties of democracies on the retreat from globalization.”