Hard Times


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Would you agree? The people we call populists have the following things in common: First, they deny climate change. Second, they use digital means more than the other side, and often they're helped by foreign countries who are carrying out digital campaigns on their behalf.

And third, they tend to deny factuality, they tend to push into question the idea that there's a real world or that facts matter. Those are the things that they tend to have in common.


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Timothy Snyder says a blurring of the line between fact and fiction, especially in regard to climate change, has typified the rise of a populism that is testing democracy. A lot of the people we now call populists I don't think actually have any relationship to the people that's meaningful. A lot of them represent foreign oligarchical interests, or the interests of American or Russian energy companies, which is not the same thing as representing the interests of the people.

Another thing which unites these people is, none of them has any idea about the future. They're trying to keep us in a kind of cyclical politics.

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So personally I don't think populism is the best name for it. Since I personally think the status quo is untenable, I don't want a negative connotation attached to anybody who's challenging the status quo.

That said, I mean we do have to take seriously that there are an awful lot of people who are trying to undo the status quo in the sense of undoing the rule of law, and undoing democratic procedures, and perhaps most importantly undoing factuality, and that this is a very serious problem.

I can think of two answers. The first is ethical. You have to take an ethical position and say that truth is worth striving for. And you have to take an ethical position and say, professions that pursue facts are good professions. The truth is good, and even though we never attain perfect truth, just like we never attain perfect health, pursuing it is a good thing. And professions that pursue it, especially investigative journalists, are doing good.

You cannot do without ethics here. And the left by the way bears a certain amount of responsibility for this. Once you're there, then it's very hard to have democracy. Master of 'alternative fact' populism: President Trump is said to have made over 10, false or misleading statements during his time in office. But if we also have different facts, then we can't have democracy, because facts are the things which allow us to say, 'You care more about clean water.

I care more about, let's say, cultural continuity. But we can both agree that the water under the church is polluted. There can't be civil society, there can't be democracy. The second answer is that there has to be public policy to support the fact creators. Fiction is free, facts have a cost. And the facts are good, like clean water is good, or clean air is good, or access to energy is good. If it's a public good, then you have to make policy that supports that public good, whether that means subsidizing public radio or public television, or creating the equivalent of public internet.

Whether it means subsidizing investigative journalism, whether it means messing around with the algorithms so that actual investigative journalism has some kind of advantage, you have to have public policy which brings the facts to the fore. Should we have laws against trolls, hate speech and fake news, especially on the internet? Free speech is based on the principle that you know who's speaking.

That's not a violation of free speech, that actually enables free speech, because we can't really have a conversation if you don't know who I am, and I don't know who you are. Or if I'm a bot pretending to be a person, or I'm a Russian pretending to be a German. The bots pretending to be people are just much, much more common than one realizes. So, I think it would be reasonable to have a law which said, bots should be identified as bots, and people should be identified as people.

Another thing to think about is competition.

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We recognize that there's fair and unfair competition. In the profession of journalism, fiction is unfair competition because it's free.

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It's much easier to just make something up. It is reasonable to legislate about things like that. The way the platforms work is to basically extract from us our most basic and primitive instincts about what feels good, and then extrapolate from that a kind of digital personality for us in which we get more and more of the stupid stuff that makes us feel good, and makes us keep thinking the things that we already think. Those things can actually be regulated. The legislative body known as the Bundesrat, or Federal Council, had its primary seat in this building in Bonn until the body moved to Berlin in Plenary sessions took place in the assembly hall of the adjoining Pedagogical Academy, where laws were drafted, discussed and voted.

This plenary chamber in the former Bundesrat building is where the Parliamentary Council negotiated a provisional constitution for the young Federal Republic of Germany just after WWII. The council consisted of 65 members — 61 men and four women. After lengthy negotiations, the Basic Law was passed in May by a vote of 53 to The Federal Council also met in this room from to A new exhibition called "The German Basic Law," held in the former Bundesrat building, focuses on the historic hall that was central to the process of drafting the Basic Law.

The exhibition organized by the Haus der Geschichte, Bonn's German history museum, includes several items from the Bonn Republic, the era from to when Germany was divided into East and West. A one-story, simple and bright space designed to represent the values of the new Federal Republic of Germany, the bungalow served as the chancellor's residence starting in Many historic meetings also took place there, including one in June with the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. A protected monument since , the building now hosts events and concerts.

It was the control center of the Bonn Republic: the chancellor's office in the Federal Chancellery. Helmut Schmidt, chancellor from , is seen here leafing through files in Today, the study in the former Federal Chancellery is open to visitors. This palace, completed in , was named after its second owner, Prince of Schaumburg-Lippe. Surrounded by a large park with historic trees, the white neoclassical-style building served from as the primary seat of the Federal Chancellery; the chancellor's bungalow was also later built on the park grounds.

Many treaties were signed there. The Villa Hammerschmidt is another symbol of the Bonn Republic's young democracy, as it housed the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany and his successors until Berlin's Bellevue Palace took on that role in Hammerschmidt still serves as a secondary official seat for the president.

From the SparkNotes Blog

Politicians regularly answered journalists' questions here in the historic hall of the Federal Press Conference, an association of full-time journalists. Foreign state representatives also made a stop here; pictured above is a press conference with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in He was totally against their whole deal in general.

He strongly believed that people are individuals and their lives and choices can't be explained by math or logic alone. Also, he was deeply committed to the idea of acting for the sake of others.

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Self-sacrifice, altruism, generosity, and compassion were all high on his must-do list. He believed that these behaviors would be lost in an economic system that claims that people should act only according to their self-interest. So, in , to point out the dangers of the popular economic theories in his day, Dickens wrote the novel Hard Times. It's about a brother and a sister raised totally on the principles of economic theory or at least economic theory the way Dickens understood it.


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And guess what? Not so surprisingly, their lives turn out pretty horrible. But you'll have to read the book to find out what happens — we don't want to spoil the ending for you. Dickens seems to say, "Economics is going to mess everyone up! When this novel came out, many people loved it. But at the same time, lots of pro-economics, pro-industrialization, pro-business people started to nitpick all the little mistakes Dickens had made about how factories really work and what economic theories actually look like.

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