Aug 15th 2018

Erdoğan’s Authoritarian Quackery 

 

TBILISI – Why do conspiracy theories and general charlatanism so often receive their strongest support from the world’s dictators? Sure, dictators are almost always oddballs themselves, but that cannot be all there is to it. In fact, it is worth asking whether quackery is a necessary feature of authoritarian rule.

The latest evidence that it is can be found at the heart of Turkey’s current economic crisis. Turkey is saddled with debt and its currency, the lira, is plunging, yet the central bank has been all but prohibited from defending the currency by raising interest rates, because Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan believes that raising interest rates actually causes inflation.

The economics profession would beg to differ. But Erdoğan, as with much else, is not inclined to listen. On the contrary, to force the central bank to pursue his bizarre monetary policy, Erdoğan has installed his utterly unqualified son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, as the country’s Minister of Finance and Treasury.

Having grown up in the Soviet Union, I am particularly sensitive to the impact of perverse scientific theories on a society. Joseph Stalin rejected Mendelian genetics (the fundamental laws of heredity) and even Darwin’s theory of evolution in favor of the bogus theories of Trofim Lysenko, the Soviet biologist who believed that human traits were acquired, not inherited. With Stalin’s backing, Lysenko – whose spurious agricultural research doomed perhaps millions of people to starvation – sent Soviet biology down a two-decade-long rabbit hole of lunacy.

Nikita Khrushchev may have overturned Stalinism, but he was no less a prisoner of theoretical perversity. He not only supported the Lysenko theories, but also believed ideologically hardened engineers and geologists who insisted that the rules of communism could defy the laws of nature. They told him that Soviet atomic bombs could be used to reverse the course of major rivers, allowing water to be redirected toward agriculture, rather than being “wasted” by flowing into the Arctic Sea.

Russia’s experience with lethal authoritarian charlatanism is hardly unique. Hitler’s embrace of demented racial “science” delivered the world into darkness and led, almost inexorably, to the Holocaust. The perversion of reason was so normalized under Nazi rule that Josef Mengele’s grotesque human experiments could be discussed at scientific conferences just like any other medical research.

The same paranoia-fueled attraction to bogus science often motivates authoritarians to endorse conspiracy theories. Erdoğan, who has long been convinced that external forces are relentlessly plotting against his regime, is no exception.

In Erdoğan’s eyes, these malevolent forces usually act through the financial markets. So far, he has refrained from claiming outright that these markets act at the behest of “world Jewry” (the architects, many Turkish Islamists believe, of the 1908 Young Turk revolution and the secular republic that arose after World War I). But his core supporters hear the dog whistle behind his condemnations of the forces of finance – forces that now seem to be demanding higher interest rates.

But perhaps no current leader is more susceptible to misbegotten science and half-baked conspiracy theories than the US president and wannabe authoritarian, Donald Trump. It should never be forgotten that Trump wormed his way into US politics by promoting the racist “birther” argument, which claimed that then-President Barack Obama was not born in the US and therefore did not qualify for the office he held.

Since entering the White House, the lunacy has only grown. On more than 20 occasions, Trump has tweeted about a potential link between vaccines and autism. That link – first promoted by a disgraced British doctor and a former Playboy playmate – has been conclusively refuted by the scientific community.

Trump also denies any link between human activity and climate change, again bucking the overwhelming scientific consensus. And he insists, over the protests of countless economists, that trade deficits are a sign of US economic weakness. According to Alan Levinovitz, a professor of religious studies at James Madison University, Trump uses capitalization in his tweets much as medical quacks and religious charlatans did in their efforts to bamboozle the public in centuries past.

It is by no means clear whether Trump himself knows the difference between real and fake. He appears convinced that the FBI and the media are conspiring to bring down his presidency. In this sense, Trump has taken what the historian Richard Hofstadter described as the “paranoid style” from the fringes of US politics into the mainstream. Perhaps a shared paranoid style is what draws Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has continually argued that the world is conspiring to deprive Russia of the great-power status it deserves.

In any case, as Turkey’s crisis starkly demonstrates, even the most deeply held of misbegotten beliefs eventually run up against reality. “The world is what it is,” as the late V.S. Naipaul put it at the start of his novel A Bend in the River. “Those who are nothing, or allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.” The same could be said of authoritarian leaders. Those who refuse to recognize the world as it is – whether they are viewing it from Turkey, the US, Venezuela, or a host of other countries – eventually lose the position that their denial of reality was supposed to protect.


Nina L. Khrushcheva is Professor of International Affairs at The New School and a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute. 

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "