Lies, Damn Lies, and Government Lies—Or Do I Repeat Myself?

All governments thrive on lies. We might even say that apart from weapons and men cruel enough to wield them on behalf of the rulers, lies are a government’s most essential resource. Opponents of the state may be powerless in nearly every way, but so long as they are free to speak the truth, the rulers can never sleep soundly. It therefore behooves them to suppress the truth and to substitute the state’s propaganda at every turn.

Recently the government of Latvia has been illustrating these truths in an especially blatant manner. Latvia’s Security Police has devoted itself to snooping into all sorts of communications about impending economic difficulties, under the authority of a law that prohibits the dissemination of “false information about the financial system orally, in writing or in any other manner.” Violators are subject to imprisonment for as long as six years.

In an incident reported by Andrew Higgins in the Wall Street Journal, economist and university lecturer Dmitrijs Smirnovs was arrested and held for two days of questioning after he expressed doubts about the security of the country’s banks and its national currency, the lat. Although Smirnovs was released and has not been prosecuted, such detentions surely have a chilling effect on criticism of the country’s condition and its ruling institutions.

If the U.S. government were to attempt such suppression of criticism, it would have a big job on its hands. In this country, criticism of the government, the economy’s major institutions, and the present state of affairs is nearly universal, so a mass arrest might create a situation in which each guard had to oversee a million prisoners. But, of course, the government would not need to go to such extremes, because of little bit of well-publicized suppression goes a long way in persuading a multitude of potential critics to hold their tongues and keep their fingers off their keyboards.

In the past, such official suppression has occurred in this society only during wartime, but decades of semi-official enforcement (and in certain institutions, such as universities, the news media, and government agencies, official enforcement) of political correctness has accustomed Americans to holding their tongues and keeping critical views to themselves, expressing their true feelings only to a handful of trusted friends and associates. So, do not think “it can’t happen here.” It might happen, even here.

The essential book on this phenomenon is Timur Kuran’s Private Truths, Public Lies, which I recommend highly for many reasons.

HT: Elizabeth Higgs for the report on Latvia.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
Beacon Posts by Robert Higgs | Full Biography and Publications
  • Catalyst