Bullshit in Politics Pays

Episteme:1-21 (forthcoming)
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Politics is full of people who don’t care about the facts. Still, while not caring about the facts, they are often concerned to present themselves as caring about them. Politics, in other words, is full of bullshitters. But why? In this paper I develop an incentives-based analysis of bullshit in politics, arguing that it is often a rational response to the incentives facing different groups of agents. In a slogan: bullshit in politics pays, sometimes literally. After first outlining an account of bullshit (Section 1), I discuss the incentives driving three different groups of agents to bullshit: politicians, the media, and voters (Section 2). I then examine several existing proposals to combat bullshit in politics, arguing that each will fail because they ignore the relevant underlying incentives (Section 3). I conclude somewhat pessimistically that a certain amount of bullshit in politics is inevitable (Section 4).

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Adam F. Gibbons
Lingnan University


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