Jargon and Propaganda

Thursday, September 16th 2010

Economists have a baffling way of describing common-sense things in byzantine language.

"Quantative Easing", for instance, means, essentially: "printing more money".

"Asymmetrical Information", means some people know more than others and exploit it.


I thought I might have go at being an Economist.

Murder: An Immediate Violence-Associated Premature Mortality Adjustment

Sex: A Interpersonal Symmetrical Penetration with Possible Offspring Inducing Side Effects.

Walking: A Tranportative Perambulation or Possible Objecive Oriented Movement Using Humanoid Pedal Extremities.

Rain: A Downward Projection of Stratosphere Origininating Precipitation Events.

A chair: A Post Tranporatative Perambulation or Possible Objecive Oriented Movement Using Pedal Extremities Gluteus Maximus Support Device.

To tap dance: A Rhythmic Music-Mimicking Tranportative Perambulation Using Humanoid Pedal Extremities for Entertainment Effect.

Boring Rant About How Annoying This Is

Which brings me to the question: why are so many things so laden with impenetrable jargon?

Is it because the ideas are just hard to understand and so need lots of weird language to describe them?

In some cases, certainly.

In other cases, we have something else at work.

In some areas, for instance, some claim what they're saying is based on evidence of one kind or another. The same folks do not seem to make accurate predictions or judge their (mostly incomprehensible) theories against experimental results. They just carry on stating the case over and over again in more and more abstract terms until everyone gives up listening.

In economics, for instance, questions such as:

  • Why does theory fail so badly at predicting the end of asset bubbles?

  • Why does theory struggle to predict what a given individual will purchase in a shop?

Remain unanswered. Where are the economic theories that pass these sorts of common sense tests?

Tumbleweed rolls past.

So to prevent the Average Mortal asking questions like this, language is changed so that questions don't get asked by the non-adepts. Most people don't know the right language to phrase their questions in. They don't even know the questions to ask. And if they do get an answer the questioner won't understand it.

If you said:

"We're going to solve the current problem of no-one buying anything by printing more money and leaving it to others to solve in five years time."

People would raise eyebrows.

If they say (FT.com):

Most FOMC members still think that the recovery will continue but that the risks of weak growth, which could justify further easing, have increased.

Mr Bullard is a voting member of the FOMC this year but he indicated that he would not cast a dissenting vote. "I prefer to try to convince people on the committee," he said.

The Fed's existing promise to keep rates at exceptionally low levels for an extended period "may be increasing the probability of a Japanese-style outcome for the US," he said.

He added that if the Fed did have to ease further, "I come down on the view that we should employ a quantitative easing programme, probably more aggressively than we already have".

It doesn't sound nearly as eyebrow raising. People's brains just turn off.

Most people don't care about abstract ideas, measurements and numbers. They can't be bothered. It doesn't seem worth the effort. Because once they understand it, it seems so simple!

100,000 people having a disease is a statistic, your wife being sick is real.

Your wages going up with inflation and slowly moving up the tax brackets is asbtruse and happens gradually. Taxes going up is real and obvious. It's in your tax return and a press announcement. And you get less money at the end of the year.

So if you want people to care about the disease, show them someone's wife, don't just give them a stat.

If you don't want people to notice taxes going up, don't raise taxes, inflate the currency.

If you don't want people to understand what you're saying, say it in impenetrable, asbtract jargon they'll feel stupid for asking about. Intimidate them and bore them at the same time.

This technique is used as propaganda to protect the dodgy practices of a bloated overpaid financial sector, to euphemistically tell people you don't like them, to cover up stupidity, to hide incompetence, to rip other people off, to protect academic elites, to exclude non-metalheads from gatherings of metalheads ... you name it. It follows a common pattern.

As my sister says:

You can cover up stupidity by making people who ask about the stupidity look stupid.

Jargon is the tool of the verbally-gifted elitist oppressor.

See what I mean? Q.E.D.