President Biden Established a Ministry of Truth

From a Wall Street Journal story by Roger Koppl and Abigail Devereaux headlined “Biden Establishes a Ministry of Truth”:

The Department of Homeland Security has announced the formation of the Disinformation Governance Board—charged, according to Politico, with “countering misinformation related to homeland security, focused specifically on irregular migration and Russia.” In a twist too implausible for fiction, the abbreviation is DGB, one letter off from KGB.

The stated goal of combating mis- and disinformation is framed to seem unobjectionable. Who objects to truth and pines for falsehood? DGB experts will guide the way, separating the informational wheat from the disinformational chaff. But there’s one small problem with empowering “truth experts”: Experts are people.

People respond to incentives. Therefore experts respond to incentives. Graham Medley, a British expert involved in the U.K. policy response to Covid, illustrated the point in recent testimony before Parliament. “The worst thing for me,” he said, “would be for the government to say, ‘Why didn’t you tell us it could be that bad?’ Inevitably, we were always going to have a worst case which is above reality.”

Put yourself in his shoes. If you predict doom and nothing much happens, it was because of your wise warning. If you don’t predict doom and reality is worse than you predicted, you will be blamed and shamed. The incentives are clear. Truth experts at the DGB will proclaim grave threats around every turn even when any “threats” are minor to nonexistent.

By creating the DGB, the U.S. government is creating a crisis monitor with the dial permanently set to “existential threat.” No one inside the board will have the incentive—or the courage—to dial it down.

The dangers of the DGB will be amplified if it becomes the tool of partisan political actors. And it already has. Executive director Nina Jankowicz, who once described Hunter Biden’s laptop as “a Trump campaign product,” has written that America’s “information landscape” includes “declining trust in the media, fed by the Trump administration’s relentless attacks on the fourth estate.” She has said: “Unless we mitigate our own political polarization, our own internal issues, we will continue to be an easy target for any malign actor—Russian or Iranian, foreign or domestic—to manipulate.”

Yes, you read that right. We must all fall in line because of the many grave threats—domestic as well as foreign—out there. Incorrect political opinions become a national-security threat. The DGB already looks frighteningly similar to the KGB.

Roger Koppl is a professor of finance at Syracuse University and author of “Expert Failure.” Abigail  Devereaux is a professor of economics at Wichita State University.

 

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