Information without knowledge is wrecking your brain’s ability to decipher what matters.
I read an article in the New York Times about the conclusion of the IMF’s three-day meeting in Tokyo this week and at the end, I had no idea what I’d read. So I went back through it to make sure I hadn’t missed something, turns out it was 700 words with zero meaning at all.
the members of the International Monetary Fund warned that global growth was slowing as the continuing debt crises in developed countries dragged down growth in emerging markets. The statement said quick action was needed to “break negative feedback loops and restore the global economy to a path of strong, sustainable and balanced growth.”
Oh yes, quick action is needed! But what quick action? And by whom?
“Europe must act.” said this or that politician, as non-specifically as possible. And by Europe, does he mean the creditors or the debtors? And how must they act? He likely doesn’t know. The economist Thorstein Veblen would have referred to him as an “ornamental functionary.”
“Asian economies could face dramatic slowdown,” said someone else from Australia, doubtless in an awesome accent, lost in translation in the Times.
“Global growth is decelerating but should accelerate,” was maybe the comment from the reporter.
It’s just nothing, the same nothing, over and over again. And we keep paying attention to it.
I’m reminded of a vignette within an Isaac Asimov Foundation novel about a diplomat landing at a particular space station or colony for a week-long set of meetings with leaders. They film his every waking moment and record all of his speeches and conversations while he’s there. Upon his departure, they dissect his appearances and conversations with everyone and study each exchange and remark.
It turns out that the diplomat, Lord Dorwin, has managed to go an entire week without actually saying a single thing. A description of the man’s manner of speaking will be eerily familiar to anyone in the habit of regularly consuming economic news these days:
Dorwin was an uncommitted reviewer, with no first hand knowledge. His purpose was to provide information about a given subject, not to provide knowledge of that subject. He was also fair and non-opinionated. He did not really choose between conflicting opinions, but merely summarized them for his listeners or eventually readers, to do whatever they pleased with that information, i.e., basically nothing.
Which is exactly what you should expect from a body like the IMF, with so many delegates and competing interests within. Statements like “so and so must act” and “developed countries must get off the benches” to resolve this or that debt issue carry no meaning and offer no answers so long as they are uttered without specific instructions. They are an artful way of speaking without saying anything.
I’m paying less attention to it all the time, it’s becoming white noise.
Even the titles of these articles are meaningless, to wit: