Truth: An impossible request

Dear Santa Clause,  For Christmas this year I ask you to give all the people around the world a sense of truthfulness to themselves and all others including young children.

There are two problems in this request: People believe in different versions of the truth and many people have an interest in distorting the truth.

There are many things about ourselves and this world that we do not and can not know from rational observation.  A lot of people fill in the gaps with differing religious knowledge but it is difficult for an observer to say which version is the truth.  A person who claims to speak or write only the truth is playing god with his/her religion and values.  Who is to say there is no Santa Clause?  A philosopher could define Santa Clause as a concept and maybe make the case that he is real.

Deliberate distortions of the truth go back to the dawn of civilisation.  I have read that ancient story tellers quickly learned to make their stories show their patrons in favourable lights.

There are a lot of distortions of the truth in our own civilization including war reporting, the courts and most politically correct issues.

Distortions of the truth in war reporting were documented in 1975 by Phillip Knightly in his book The First Casualty.  War correspondents are called upon to distort the truth for the sake of their part in their country’s war effort. The first casualty of war is he truth

I would suggest this happens where ever there is conflict.

Courts put some emphasis on  “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.  But how much injustice has resulted from prosecutors with holding  evidence which shows a person to be innocent.  The adversarial process is a strong incentive to avoid the truth.

There are also distortions in most politically correct issues.  Feminists are mistresses of the ancient art of sophistry, North American natives are a conquered people and police do not care about the color of the people they shoot.

Politicians and business people often have a vested interest in hiding the truth.  Political leaders who say the economy is on a long-term down trend are unlikely to get many votes, or at least they think that.  Every banker in the world would lie to avoid a run on his bank.

Donald Trump challenged the media with his untruths and won.  As a former journalist I was very happy not to be working the election.  If the press had not reported his distortions he probably would not even have got the nomination.  Mostly I worked on small town newspapers where most of the politicians were basically honest.

News people like good stories and when famous people say stupid or ridiculous things, it is usually a good story.   I once quoted a school trustee because I wanted to show how stupid he was.  The next day some lady phoned the local radio talk show and said,  “Did you see what Dr. P….. said at school board.  Wasn’t that great?”

What about the responsibility of the media to report the truth?  Publishers have the right to decide what goes into their publication and some specialize in fiction. There are ethical issues in claiming fiction as fact.  It is also hard for a reporter or editor to ignore a statement because he knows it is not true. Most reporters, editors and publishers do not want to upset their friends.  In general advertisers to not much  care about the editorial content so long as their advertising brings in customers.

How do we as consumers of news know if something is true?  We have to evaluate if an item makes sense and that depends upon our values, religion and knowledge base.

As I have worked on this post I have wondered a little if untruthfulness is an essential part of surviving human relationships.  That might be best left for another reincarnation.


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Economists and honesty

Can economists be trusted to tell the truth?  If they can,  why can’t they see the same truths as I see?

These questions are prompted by this article about a very small experiment which suggests that economics and business students are more dishonest than students in humanities, sciences and other fields.

The study was based on a very small sample but still it is tempting to believe there may be some truth in it.

Economists tend not to see things that at least to me are very obvious.  For example, that economic growth has come to an end.  In light of the evidence it must take a lot of faith to predict that recovery is just around the corner although lately the time frame seems to be increasing to a year or two.  There’s a song which tells us that tomorrow is just a day away and a saying that tells us tomorrow never comes.

Are economists lying or are they deceiving themselves?  Or am I the one committing self-deception?

One has to note that most of us have to support the views and interests of our employers.

I have for a long time figured the role of economists is not to solve economic problems but to give legitimacy to economic activity which consumes scarce resources and sometimes trods over other people’s lives and values.  Economists were the theologians of the twentieth century.

In any case economists don’t have a great record for accuracy or for proposing viable solutions to economic problems.


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Wal-Mart and impoving honesty in the financial industry

It’s hard not to get the idea that large sections of the financial industry operate on a culture that what most of us would consider fraud is acceptable and even desirable.

The question is how to change that culture.  It appears that legislation and enforcement just doesn’t work.  There are always loopholes to exploit.

For a while I’ve been wondering if making the industry more competitive would help as competition reduces profits.  One would have to repeal legislation and regulations which limit competition (and wear hearing protectors from the screams of those in the industry.)  One would also have to take away from banks the ability create money by making loans. (Even louder screams.)

If the industry were more competitive would its firms have to be more honest just to stay in business?

i don’t know the answer to that question but it was with considerable interest I noticed the following quotes from the article about Wal-Mart in the artlicle in yesterday”s post.


By now, it is accepted wisdom that Wal-Mart makes the companies it does business with more efficient and focused, leaner and faster.


To a person, all those interviewed credit Wal-Mart with a fundamental integrity in its dealings that’s unusual in the world of consumer goods, retailing, and groceries. Wal-Mart does not cheat suppliers, it keeps its word, it pays its bills briskly. “They are tough people but very honest; they treat you honestly,” says Peter Campanella, who ran the business that sold Corning kitchenware products, both at Corning and then at World Kitchen. “It was a joke to do business with most of their competitors. A fiasco.”


Those sound like qualities which are desperately needed in the financial industry and from which everyone would benefit.

Maybe we should be encouraging Wal-Mart to go into the financial industry.


If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

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