Propaganda, Heroism & Trade Wars

When truth trumped propaganda in wartime

Suggested by Fred de Fossard, communications manager at Public First

Sean Coughlan’s BBC article about the newly released archives from the Ministry of Information shines an interesting light onto the British public’s attitudes throughout the Second World War. In a time of huge public anxiety, the government wanted to know what the public really thought: How were people responding to the bombing raids? What rumours were circulating? What was really irritating the public? The results are fascinating, and instructive for anyone trying to interact with public opinion today.

‘"People were saying, ‘We want the truth, even if it's bad. We want to be treated as adults."’

Fighting against the dictatorship of Nazi Germany, the Ministry found it important to present as much truth as possible to the public, rather than hide it. “It was a case of, 'We've got truth on our side, we're going to use it as a weapon. And we can't do the same as the Germans or the Russians […] There was a clear feeling that we were fighting the war for freedom, democracy and the truth – and those things were indivisible."

Politicians and entrepreneurs alike should remember the nuances in public opinion, and the value of honesty in communications, even in times of crisis.

The archives are online here, and make excellent reading.

The myth of heroism

Suggested by Annabel Denham, associate director of The Entrepreneurs Network

The idea of heroes is as old as Greek mythology but with superhero movies smashing box office records it has enduring resonance.

As with comic books, heroes in the classical narrative are special, marked from birth with a destiny only they can realise. But Dr Stephen Davies asks whether these heroes are necessarily different from the common herd. They were for Ayn Rand, and are treated as such in economics today – where we can find a focus on heroic inventors or entrepreneurs who are retrospectively seen as fulfilling their destiny.

But “this is not the only way of thinking”. In the domestic or bourgeois concept of heroism it is a person’s actions, not a specific set of characteristics – or, destiny – that defines heroism. What they defend can be fundamentally mundane – “the life and circumstances of ordinary people and the virtues they reflect”.

What do we take from this? First, "human progress is driven by ordinary people doing extraordinary things." Second, "we should avoid stories that suggest we can only be saved by heroic figures in the classical sense." Third, “the performance of simply quotidian tasks as well as private and personal acts of kindness” will preserve and improve everyday life.

Politics is the problem – trade is the answer

Suggested by Philip Salter, founder of The Entrepreneurs Network

“When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will”. This widely misattributed quote may sound like common sense, yet many so-called foreign policy experts act as though it’s anything but.

Economist Scott Sumner takes this truism to its logical conclusion in hoping that China wins the ongoing trade war with the US. In answer to a reader’s question, “how can you support in any way the most murderous, totalitarian empire in world history?”, he replies: “I strongly oppose that regime, and trade with the Chinese people is my method of opposing the regime. If China wins the trade war, the US will be less likely to launch such foolish actions against other countries.”

For Sumner: “Hundreds of years of human history strongly suggest that trade makes people better, both at the individual level and the national level.”

History seems to be on Sumner’s side. As Marginal Revolution reports, Ju Hyun Pyun and Jong-Wha Lee have investigated the effect of trade integration on interstate military conflict. Based on a large panel data set of 243,225 country-pair observations from 1950 to 2000 it finds that an increase in bilateral trade interdependence significantly promotes peace.

All we are saying is give trade a chance.

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