Debates about economic policy in Britain have been dominated by claims that sovereign debt problems are due to loose fiscal policy and excessive spending rather than volatile capital flows and flawed monetary policy. There are strong grounds for believing that these stories are largely nonsense, yet they inform policy and are widely believed among mass publics, and have proved almost impossible to refute in everyday political discourse. The answer to this puzzle, we suggest, is that such claims are better thought of as bullshit (as conceptualised by Harry Frankfurt 2005) rather than outright falsehoods: in other words, as speech acts that are indifferent to the truth and proceed without effective concern for the veracity of the claim in question. In this paper, we examine the characteristics of political bullshit applied to economic policy debates since the financial crisis, and seek to explain its hold on the popular imagination. We assess what makes some particular brands of bullshit more successful than others, and argue that in a world of competing realities as well as competing theories, the power of rhetoric is more likely to settle an argument than evidence and logic.
- fiscal policy
- financial crisis