But the protesters are also right -- no nation has ever developed over the long term under the rules being imposed today on third-world countries by the institutions controlling globalization. The United States, Germany, France and Japan all became wealthy and powerful nations behind the barriers of protectionism. East Asia built its export industry by protecting its markets and banks from foreign competition and requiring investors to buy local products and build local know-how. These are all practices discouraged or made illegal by the rules of trade today.
The World Trade Organization was designed as a meeting place where willing nations could sit in equality and negotiate rules of trade for their mutual advantage, in the service of sustainable international development. Instead, it has become an unbalanced institution largely controlled by the United States and the nations of Europe, and especially the agribusiness, pharmaceutical and financial-services industries in these countries. At W.T.O. meetings, important deals are hammered out in negotiations attended by the trade ministers of a couple dozen powerful nations, while those of poor countries wait in the bar outside for news.
The International Monetary Fund was created to prevent future Great Depressions in part by lending countries in recession money and pressing them to adopt expansionary policies, like deficit spending and low interest rates, so they would continue to buy their neighbors' products. Over time, its mission has evolved into the reverse: it has become a long-term manager of the economies of developing countries, blindly committed to the bitter medicine of contraction no matter what the illness. Its formation was an acknowledgment that markets sometimes work imperfectly, but it has become a champion of market supremacy in all situations, echoing the voice of Wall Street and the United States Treasury Department, more interested in getting wealthy creditors repaid than in serving the poor.
It is often said that globalization is a force of nature, as unstoppable and difficult to contain as a storm. This is untrue and misleading. Globalization is a powerful phenomenon -- but it is not irreversible, and indeed the previous wave of globalization, at the turn of the last century, was stopped dead by World War I. Today it would be more likely for globalization to be sabotaged by its own inequities, as disillusioned nations withdraw from a system they see as indifferent or harmful to the poor.
Globalization's supporters portray it as the peeling away of distortions to reveal a clean and elegant system of international commerce, the one nature intended. It is anything but. The accord creating the W.T.O. is 22,500 pages long -- not exactly a free trade agreement. All globalization, it seems, is local, the rules drawn up by, and written to benefit, powerful nations and powerful interests within those nations. Globalization has been good for the United States, but even in this country, the gains go disproportionately to the wealthy and to big business.
It's not too late for globalization to work. But the system is in need of serious reform. More equitable rules would spread its benefits to the ordinary citizens of wealthy countries. They would also help to preserve globalization by giving the poor of the world a stake in the system -- and, not incidentally, improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Here, then, are nine new rules for the global economy -- a prescription to save globalization from itself.
If there is any place in Latin America where the poor have thrived because of globalization, it is Chile. Between 1987 and 1998, Chile cut poverty by more than half. Its success shows that poor nations can take advantage of globalization -- if they have governments that actively make it happen.
Chile reduced poverty by growing its economy -- 6.6 percent a year from 1985 to 2000. One of the few points economists can agree on is that growth is the most important thing a nation can do for its poor. They can't agree on basics like whether poverty in the world is up or down in the last 15 years -- the number of people who live on less than $1 a day is slightly down, but the number who live on less than $2 is slightly up. Inequality has soared during the last 15 years, but economists cannot agree on whether globalization is mainly at fault or whether other forces, like the uneven spread of technology, are responsible. They can't agree on how to reduce inequality -- growth tends not to change it. They can't agree on whether the poor who have not been helped are victims of globalization or have simply not yet enjoyed access to its benefits -- in other words, whether the solution is more globalization or less. But economists agree on one thing: to help the poor, you'd better grow.
For the rest of Latin America, and most of the developing world except China (and to a lesser extent India), globalization as practiced today is failing, and it is failing because it has not produced growth. Excluding China, the growth rate of poor countries was 2 percent a year lower in the 1990's than in the 1970's, when closed economies were the norm and the world was in a recession brought on in part by oil-price shocks. Latin American economies in the 1990's grew at an average annual rate of 2.9 percent -- about half the rate of the 1960's. By the end of the 1990's, 11 million more Latin Americans lived in poverty than at the beginning of the decade. And in country after country, Latin America's poor are suffering -- either from economic crises and market panics or from the day-to-day deprivations that globalization was supposed to relieve. The surprise is not that Latin Americans are once again voting for populist candidates but that the revolt against globalization took so long.
When I visited Eastern Europe after the end of Communism, a time when democracy was mainly bringing poverty, I heard over and over again that the reason for Chile's success was Augusto Pinochet. Only a dictator with a strong hand can put his country through the pain of economic reform, went the popular wisdom. In truth, we now know that inflicting pain is the easy part; governments democratic and dictatorial are all instituting free-market austerity. The point is not to inflict pain but to lessen it. In this Pinochet failed, and the democratic governments that followed him beginning in 1990 have succeeded .
What Pinochet did was to shut down sectors of Chile's economy that produced goods for the domestic market, like subsistence farming and appliance manufacturing, and point the economy toward exports. Here he was following the standard advice that economists give developing countries -- but there are different ways to do it, and Pinochet's were disastrous. Instead of helping the losers, he dismantled the social safety net and much of the regulatory apparatus that might have kept privatization honest. When the world economy went into recession in 1982, Chile's integration into the global marketplace and its dependence on foreign capital magnified the crash. Poverty soared, and unemployment reached 20 percent.
Pinochet's second wave of globalization, in the late 1980's, worked better, because the state did not stand on the side. It regulated the changes effectively and aggressively promoted exports. But Pinochet created a time bomb in Chile: the country's exports were, and still are, nonrenewable natural resources. Chile began subsidizing companies that cut down native forests for wood chips, for example, and the industry is rapidly deforesting the nation.
Chile began to grow, but inequality soared -- the other problem with Pinochet's globalization was that it left out the poor. While the democratic governments that succeeded Pinochet have not yet been able to reduce inequality, at least it is no longer increasing, and they have been able to use the fruits of Chile's growth to help the poor.
Chile's democratic governments have spread the benefits of economic integration by designing effective social programs and aiming them at the poor. Chile has sunk money into revitalizing the 900 worst primary schools. It now leads Latin America in computers in schools, along with Costa Rica. It provides the very low-income with housing subsidies, child care and income support. Open economy or closed, these are good things. But Chile's government is also taking action to mitigate one of the most dangerous aspects of global integration: the violent ups and downs that come from linking your economy to the rest of the world. This year it created unemployment insurance. And it was the first nation to institute what is essentially a tax on short-term capital, to discourage the kind of investment that can flood out during a market panic.
The conventional wisdom among economists today is that successful globalizers must be like Chile. This was not always the thinking. In the 1980's, the Washington Consensus -- the master-of-the-universe ideology at the time, highly influenced by the Reagan and Thatcher administrations -- held that government was in the way. Globalizers' tasks included privatization, deregulation, fiscal austerity and financial liberalization. ''In the 1980's and up to 1996 or 1997, the state was considered the devil,'' says Juan Martín, an Argentine economist at the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. ''Now we know you need infrastructure, institutions, education. In fact, when the economy opens, you need more control mechanisms from the state, not fewer.''
And what if you don't have these things? Bolivia carried out extensive reforms beginning in 1985 -- a year in which it had inflation of 23,000 percent -- to make the economy more stable and efficient. But in the words of the World Bank, ''It is a good example of a country that has achieved successful stabilization and implemented innovative market reforms, yet made only limited progress in the fight against poverty.'' Latin America is full of nations that cannot make globalization work. The saddest example is Haiti, an excellent student of the rules of globalization, ranked at the top of the I.M.F.'s index of trade openness. Yet over the 1990's, Haiti's economy contracted; annual per capita income is now $250. No surprise -- if you are a corrupt and misgoverned nation with a closed economy, becoming a corrupt and misgoverned nation with an open economy is not going to solve your problems.
If there is a showcase for globalization in Latin America, it lies on the outskirts of Puebla, Mexico, at Volkswagen Mexico. Every New Beetle in the world is made here, 440 a day, in a factory so sparkling and clean that you could have a baby on the floor, so high-tech that in some halls it is not evident that human beings work here. Volkswagen Mexico also makes Jettas and, in a special hall, 80 classic Beetles a day to sell in Mexico, one of the last places in the world where the old Bug still chugs.
The Volkswagen factory is the biggest single industrial plant in Mexico. Humans do work here -- 11,000 people in assembly-line jobs, 4,000 more in the rest of the factory -- with 11,000 more jobs in the industrial park of VW suppliers across the street making parts, seats, dashboards and other components. Perhaps 50,000 more people work in other companies around Mexico that supply VW. The average monthly wage in the plant is $760, among the highest in the country's industrial sector. The factory is the equal of any in Germany, the product of a billion-dollar investment in 1995, when VW chose Puebla as the exclusive site for the New Beetle.
Except . . . this plant is not here because Mexico has an open economy, but because it had a closed one. In 1962, Mexico decreed that any automaker that wanted to sell cars here had to produce them here. Five years later, VW opened the factory. Mexico's local content requirement is now illegal, except for very limited exceptions, under W.T.O. rules; in Mexico the local content requirement for automobiles is being phased out and will disappear entirely in January 2004.
The Puebla factory, for all the jobs and foreign exchange it brings Mexico, also refutes the argument that foreign technology automatically rubs off on the local host. Despite 40 years here, the auto industry has not created much local business or know-how. VW makes the point that it buys 60 percent of its parts in Mexico, but the ''local'' suppliers are virtually all foreign-owned and import most of the materials they use. The value Mexico adds to the Beetles it exports is mainly labor. Technology transfer -- the transmission of know-how from foreign companies to local ones -- is limited in part because most foreign trade today is intracompany; Ford Hermosillo, for example, is a stamping and assembly plant shipping exclusively to Ford plants in the United States. Trade like this is particularly impenetrable to outsiders. ''In spite of the fact that Mexico has been host to many car plants, we don't know how to build a car,'' says Huberto Juárez, an economist at the Autonomous University of Puebla.
Volkswagen Mexico is the epitome of the strategy Mexico has chosen for globalization -- assembly of imported parts. It is a strategy that makes perfect sense given Mexico's proximity to the world's largest market, and it has given rise to the maquila industry, which uses Mexican labor to assemble foreign parts and then re-export the finished products. Although the economic slowdown in the United States is hurting the maquila industry, it still employs a million people and brings the country $10 billion a year in foreign exchange. The factories have turned Mexico into one of the developing world's biggest exporters of medium- and high-technology products. But the maquila sector remains an island and has failed to stimulate Mexican industries -- one reason Mexico's globalization has brought disappointing growth, averaging only 3 percent a year during the 1990's.
In countries as varied as South Korea, China and Mauritius, however, assembly work has been the crucible of wider development. Jeffrey Sachs, the development economist who now directs Columbia University's Earth Institute, says that the maquila industry is ''magnificent.'' ''I could cite 10 success stories,'' he says, ''and every one started with a maquila sector.'' When Korea opened its export-processing zone in Masan in the early 1970's, local inputs were 3 percent of the export value, according to the British development group Oxfam. Ten years later they were almost 50 percent. General Motors took a Korean textile company called Daewoo and helped shape it into a conglomerate making cars, electronic goods, ships and dozens of other products. Daewoo calls itself ''a locomotive for national economic development since its founding in 1967.'' And despite the company's recent troubles, it's true -- because Korea made it true. G.M. did not tutor Daewoo because it welcomed competition but because Korea demanded it. Korea wanted to build high-tech industry, and it did so by requiring technology transfer and by closing markets to imports.
Maquilas first appeared in Mexico in 1966. Although the country has gone from assembling clothing to assembling high-tech goods, nearly 40 years later 97 percent of the components used in Mexican maquilas are still imported, and the value that Mexico adds to its exports has actually declined sharply since the mid-1970's.
Mexico has never required companies to transfer technology to locals, and indeed, under the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement, it cannot. ''We should have included a technical component in Nafta,'' says Luis de la Calle, one of the treaty's negotiators and later Mexico's under secretary of economy for foreign trade. ''We should be getting a significant transfer of technology from the United States, and we didn't really try.''
Without technology transfer, maquila work is marked for extinction. As transport costs become less important, Mexico is increasingly competing with China and Bangladesh -- where labor goes for as little as 9 cents an hour. This is one reason that real wages for the lowest-paid workers in Mexico dropped by 50 percent from 1985 to 2000. Businesses, in fact, are already leaving to go to China.
When Americans think about globalization, they often think about sweatshops -- one aspect of globalization that ordinary people believe they can influence through their buying choices. In many of the factories in Mexico, Central America and Asia producing American-brand toys, clothes, sneakers and other goods, exploitation is the norm. The young women who work in them -- almost all sweatshop workers are young women -- endure starvation wages, forced overtime and dangerous working conditions.
In Chile, I met a man who works at a chicken-processing plant in a small town. The plant is owned by Chileans and processes chicken for the domestic market and for export to Europe, Asia and other countries in Latin America. His job is to stand in a freezing room and crack open chickens as they come down an assembly line at the rate of 41 per minute. When visitors arrive at the factory (the owners did not return my phone calls requesting a visit or an interview), the workers get a respite, as the line slows down to half-speed for show. His work uniform does not protect him from the cold, the man said, and after a few minutes of work he loses feeling in his hands. Some of his colleagues, he said, are no longer able to raise their arms. If he misses a day he is docked $30. He earns less than $200 a month.
Is this man a victim of globalization? The protesters say that he is, and at one point I would have said so, too. He -- and all workers -- should have dignified conditions and the right to organize. All companies should follow local labor laws, and activists should pressure companies to pay their workers decent wages.
But today if I were to picket globalization, I would protest other inequities. In a way, the chicken worker, who came to the factory when driving a taxi ceased to be profitable, is a beneficiary of globalization. So are the millions of young women who have left rural villages to be exploited gluing tennis shoes or assembling computer keyboards. The losers are those who get laid off when companies move to low-wage countries, or those forced off their land when imports undercut their crop prices, or those who can no longer afford life-saving medicine -- people whose choices in life diminish because of global trade. Globalization has offered this man a hellish job, but it is a choice he did not have before, and he took it; I don't name him because he is afraid of being fired. When this chicken company is hiring, the lines go around the block.
The argument that open economies help the poor rests to a large extent on the evidence that closed economies do not. While South Korea and other East Asian countries successfully used trade barriers to create export industries, this is rare; most protected economies are disasters. ''The main tendency in a sheltered market is to goof off,'' says Jagdish Bhagwati, a prominent free-trader who is the Arthur Lehman professor of economics at Columbia University. ''A crutch becomes a permanent crutch. Infant-industry protection should be for infant industries.''
Anyone who has lived or traveled in the third world can attest that while controlled economies theoretically allow governments to help the poor, in practice it's usually a different story. In Latin America, spending on social programs largely goes to the urban middle class. Attention goes to people who can organize, strike, lobby and contribute money. And in a closed economy, the ''state'' car factory is often owned by the dictator's son and the country's forests can be chopped down by his golf partner.
Free trade, its proponents argue, takes these decisions away from the government and leaves them to the market, which punishes corruption. And it's true that a system that took corruption and undue political influence out of economic decision-making could indeed benefit the poor. But humans have not yet invented such a system -- and if they did, it would certainly not be the current system of globalization, which is soiled with the footprints of special interests. In every country that negotiates at the W.T.O. or cuts a free-trade deal, trade ministers fall under heavy pressure from powerful business groups. Lobbyists have learned that they can often quietly slip provisions that pay big dividends into complex trade deals. None have been more successful at getting what they want than those from America.
The most egregious example of a special-interest provision is the W.T.O.'s rules on intellectual property. The ability of poor nations to make or import cheap copies of drugs still under patent in rich countries has been a boon to world public health. But the W.T.O. will require most of its poor members to accept patents on medicine by 2005, with the very poorest nations following in 2016. This regime does nothing for the poor. Medicine prices will probably double, but poor countries will never offer enough of a market to persuade the pharmaceutical industry to invent cures for their diseases.
The intellectual-property rules have won worldwide notoriety for the obstacles they pose to cheap AIDS medicine. They are also the provision of the W.T.O. that economists respect the least. They were rammed into the W.T.O. by Washington in response to the industry groups who control United States trade policy on the subject. ''This is not a trade issue,'' Bhagwati says. ''It's a royalty-collection issue. It's pharmaceuticals and software throwing their weight around.'' The World Bank calculated that the intellectual-property rules will result in a transfer of $40 billion a year from poor countries to corporations in the developed world.
Manuel de Jesús Gómez is a corn farmer in the hills of Puebla State, 72 years old and less than five feet tall. I met him in his field of six acres, where he was trudging behind a plow pulled by a burro. He farms the same way campesinos in these hills have been farming for thousands of years. In Puebla, and in the poverty belt of Mexico's southern states -- Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero -- corn growers plow with animals and irrigate by praying for rain.
Before Nafta, corn covered 60 percent of Mexico's cultivated land. This is where corn was born, and it remains a symbol of the nation and daily bread for most Mexicans. But in the Nafta negotiations, Mexico agreed to open itself to subsidized American corn, a policy that has crushed small corn farmers. ''Before, we could make a living, but now sometimes what we sell our corn for doesn't even cover our costs,'' Gómez says. With Nafta, he suddenly had to compete with American corn -- raised with the most modern methods, but more important, subsidized to sell overseas at 20 percent less than the cost of production. Subsidized American corn now makes up almost half of the world's stock, effectively setting the world price so low that local small farmers can no longer survive. This competition helped cut the price paid to Gómez for his corn by half.
Because of corn's importance to Mexico, when it negotiated Nafta it was promised 15 years to gradually raise the amount of corn that could enter the country without tariffs. But Mexico voluntarily lifted the quotas in less than three years -- to help the chicken and pork industry, Mexican negotiators told me unabashedly. (Eduardo Bours, a member of the family that owns Mexico's largest chicken processor, was one of Mexico's Nafta negotiators.) The state lost some $2 billion in tariffs it could have charged, and farmers were instantly exposed to competition from the north. According to ANEC, a national association of campesino cooperatives, half a million corn farmers have left their land and moved to Mexican cities or to America. If it were not for a weak peso, which keeps the price of imports relatively high, far more farmers would be forced off their land.
The toll on small farmers is particularly bitter because cheaper corn has not translated into cheaper food for Mexicans. As part of its economic reforms, Mexico has gradually removed price controls on tortillas and tortilla flour. Tortilla prices have nearly tripled in real terms even as the price of corn has dropped.
Is this how it was supposed to be? I asked Andrés Rosenzweig, a longtime Mexican agriculture official who helped negotiate the agricultural sections of Nafta. He was silent for a minute. ''The problems of rural poverty in Mexico did not start with Nafta,'' he said. ''The size of our farms is not viable, and they get smaller each generation because farmers have many children, who divide the land. A family in Puebla with five hectares could raise 10, maybe 15, tons of corn each year. That was an annual income of 16,000 pesos,'' the equivalent of $1,600 today. ''Double it and you still die of hunger. This has nothing to do with Nafta.
''The solution for small corn farmers,'' he went on, ''is to educate their children and find them jobs outside agriculture. But Mexico was not growing, not generating jobs. Who's going to employ them? Nafta.''
One prominent antiglobalization report keeps referring to farms like Gómez's as ''small-scale, diversified, self-reliant, community-based agriculture systems.'' You could call them that, I guess; you could also use words like ''malnourished,'' ''undereducated'' and ''miserable'' to describe their inhabitants. Rosenzweig is right -- this is not a life to be romanticized.
But to turn the farm families' malnutrition into starvation makes no sense. Mexico spends foreign exchange to buy corn. Instead, it could be spending money to bring farmers irrigation, technical help and credit. A system in which the government purchased farmers' corn at a guaranteed price -- done away with in states like Puebla during the free-market reforms of the mid-1990's -- has now been replaced by direct payments to farmers. The program is focused on the poor, but the payments are symbolic -- $36 an acre. In addition, rural credit has disappeared, as the government has effectively shut down the rural bank, which was badly run, and other banks won't lend to small farmers. There is a program -- understaffed and poorly publicized -- to help small producers, but the farmers I met didn't know about it.
Free trade is a religion, and with religion comes hypocrisy. Rich nations press other countries to open their agricultural markets. At the urging of the I.M.F. and Washington, Haiti slashed its tariffs on rice in 1995. Prices paid to rice farmers fell by 25 percent, which has devastated Haiti's rural poor. In China, the tariff demands of W.T.O. membership will cost tens of millions of peasants their livelihoods. But European farmers get 35 percent of their income from government subsidies, and American farmers get 20 percent. Farm subsidies in the United States, moreover, are a huge corporate-welfare program, with nearly 70 percent of payments going to the largest 10 percent of producers. Subsidies also depress crop prices abroad by encouraging overproduction. The farm bill President Bush signed in May -- with substantial Democratic support -- provides about $57 billion in subsidies for American corn and other commodities over the next 10 years.
Wealthy nations justify pressure on small countries to open markets by arguing that these countries cannot grow rice and corn efficiently -- that American crops are cheap food for the world's hungry. But with subsidies this large, it takes chutzpah to question other nations' efficiency. And in fact, the poor suffer when America is the supermarket to the world, even at bargain prices. There is plenty of food in the world, and even many countries with severe malnutrition are food exporters. The problem is that poor people can't afford it. The poor are the small farmers. Three-quarters of the world's poor are rural. If they are forced off their land by subsidized grain imports, they starve.
Back in the 1950's, Latin American economists made a simple calculation. The products their nations exported -- copper, tin, coffee, rice and other commodities -- were buying less and less of the high-value-added goods they wanted to import. In effect, they were getting poorer each day. Their solution was to close their markets and develop domestic industries to produce their own appliances and other goods for their citizens.
The strategy, which became known as import substitution, produced high growth -- for a while. But these closed economies ultimately proved unsustainable. Latin American governments made their consumers buy inferior and expensive products -- remember the Brazilian computer of the 1970's? Growth depended on heavy borrowing and high deficits. When they could no longer roll over their debts, Latin American economies crashed, and a decade of stagnation resulted.
At the time, the architects of import substitution could not imagine that it was possible to export anything but commodities. But East Asia -- as poor or poorer than Latin America in the 1960's -- showed in the 1980's and 1990's that it can be done. Unfortunately, the rules of global trade now prohibit countries from using the strategies successfully employed to develop export industries in East Asia.
American trade officials argue that they are not using tariffs to block poor countries from exporting, and they are right -- the average tariff charged by the United States is a negligible 1.7 percent, much lower than other nations. But the rules rich nations have set -- on technology transfer, local content and government aid to their infant industries, among other things -- are destroying poor nations' abilities to move beyond commodities. ''We are pulling up the ladder on policies the developed countries used to become rich,'' says Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.
The commodities that poor countries are left to export are even more of a dead end today than in the 1950's. Because of oversupply, prices for coffee, cocoa, rice, sugar and tin dropped by more than 60 percent between 1980 and 2000. Because of the price collapse of commodities and sub-Saharan Africa's failure to move beyond them, the region's share of world trade dropped by two-thirds during that time. If it had the same share of exports today that it had at the start of the 1980's, per capita income in sub-Saharan Africa would be almost twice as high.
Probably the single most important change for the developing world would be to legalize the export of the one thing they have in abundance -- people. Earlier waves of globalization were kinder to the poor because not only capital, but also labor, was free to move. Dani Rodrik, an economist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a leading academic critic of the rules of globalization, argues for a scheme of legal short-term migration. If rich nations opened 3 percent of their work forces to temporary migrants, who then had to return home, Rodrik says, it would generate $200 billion annually in wages, and a lot of technology transfer for poor countries.
Globalization means risk. By opening its economy, a nation makes itself vulnerable to contagion from abroad. Countries that have liberalized their capital markets are especially susceptible, as short-term capital that has whooshed into a country on investor whim whooshes out just as fast when investors panic. This is how a real-estate crisis in Thailand in 1997 touched off one of the biggest global conflagrations since the Depression.
The desire to keep money from rushing out inspired Chile to install speed bumps discouraging short-term capital inflows. But Chile's policy runs counter to the standard advice of the I.M.F., which has required many countries to open their capital markets. ''There were so many obstacles to capital-market integration that it was hard to err on the side of pushing countries to liberalize too much,'' says Ken Rogoff, the I.M.F.'s director of research.
Prudent nations are wary of capital liberalization, and rightly so. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who has become the most influential critic of globalization's rules, writes that in December 1997, when he was chief economist at the World Bank, he met with South Korean officials who were balking at the I.M.F.'s advice to open their capital markets. They were scared of the hot money, but they could not disagree with the I.M.F., lest they be seen as irresponsible. If the I.M.F. expressed disapproval, it would drive away other donors and private investors as well.
In the wake of the Asian collapse, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad imposed capital controls in Malaysia -- to worldwide condemnation. But his policy is now widely considered to be the reason that Malaysia stayed stable while its neighbors did not. ''It turned out to be a brilliant decision,'' Bhagwati says.
Post-crash, the I.M.F. prescribed its standard advice for nations -- making loan arrangements contingent on spending cuts, interest-rate hikes and other contractionary measures. But balancing a budget in recession is, as Stiglitz puts it in his new book, ''Globalization and Its Discontents,'' a recommendation last taken seriously in the days of Herbert Hoover. The I.M.F.'s recommendations deepened the crisis and forced governments to reduce much of the cushion that was left for the poor. Indonesia had to cut subsidies on food. ''While the I.M.F. had provided some $23 billion to be used to support the exchange rate and bail out creditors,'' Stiglitz writes, ''the far, far, smaller sums required to help the poor were not forthcoming.''
Is your international financial infrastructure breeding Bolsheviks? If it does create a backlash, one reason is the standard Bolshevik explanation -- the I.M.F. really is controlled by the epicenter of international capital. Formal influence in the I.M.F. depends on a nation's financial contribution, and America is the only country with enough shares to have a veto. It is striking how many economists think the I.M.F. is part of the ''Wall Street-Treasury complex,'' in the words of Bhagwati. The fund serves ''the interests of global finance,'' Stiglitz says. It listens to the ''voice of the markets,'' says Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development in Washington and a former executive vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank. ''The I.M.F. is a front for the U.S. government -- keep the masses away from our taxpayers,'' Sachs says.
I.M.F. officials argue that their advice is completely equitable -- they tell even wealthy countries to open their markets and contract their economies. In fact, Stiglitz writes, the I.M.F. told the Clinton administration to hike interest rates to lower the danger of inflation -- at a time when inflation was the lowest it had been in decades. But the White House fortunately had the luxury of ignoring the I.M.F.: Washington will only have to take the organization's advice the next time it turns to the I.M.F. for a loan. And that will be never.
The idea that free trade maximizes benefits for all is one of the few tenets economists agree on. But the power of the idea has led to the overly credulous acceptance of much of what is put forward in its name. Stiglitz writes that there is simply no support for many I.M.F. policies, and in some cases the I.M.F. has ignored clear evidence that what it advocated was harmful. You can always argue -- and American and I.M.F. officials do -- that countries that follow the I.M.F.'s line but still fail to grow either didn't follow the openness recipe precisely enough or didn't check off other items on the to-do list, like expanding education.
Policy makers also seem to be skipping the fine print on supposedly congenial studies. An influential recent paper by the World Bank economists David Dollar and Aart Kraay is a case in point. It finds a strong correlation between globalization and growth and is widely cited to support the standard rules of openness. But in fact, on close reading, it does not support them. Among successful ''globalizers,'' Dollar and Kraay count countries like China, India and Malaysia, all of whom are trading and growing but still have protected economies and could not be doing more to misbehave by the received wisdom of globalization.
Dani Rodrik of Harvard used Dollar and Kraay's data to look at whether the single-best measure of openness -- a country's tariff levels -- correlates with growth. They do, he found -- but not the way they are supposed to. High-tariff countries grew faster. Rodrik argues that the countries in the study may have begun to trade more because they had grown and gotten richer, not the other way around. China and India, he points out, began trade reforms about 10 years after they began high growth.
When economists talk about many of the policies associated with free trade today, they are talking about national averages and ignoring questions of distribution and inequality. They are talking about equations, not what works in messy third-world economies. What economic model taught in school takes into account a government ministry that stops work because it has run out of pens? The I.M.F. and the World Bank -- which recommends many of the same austerity measures as the I.M.F. and frequently conditions its loans on I.M.F.-advocated reforms -- often tell countries to cut subsidies, including many that do help the poor, and impose user fees on services like water. The argument is that subsidies are an inefficient way to help poor people -- because they help rich people too -- and instead, countries should aid the poor directly with vouchers or social programs. As an equation, it adds up. But in the real world, the subsidies disappear, and the vouchers never materialize.
The I.M.F. argues that it often saves countries from even more budget cuts. ''Countries come to us when they are in severe distress and no one will lend to them,'' Rogoff says. ''They may even have to run surpluses because their loans are being called in. Being in an I.M.F. program means less austerity.'' But a third of the developing world is under I.M.F. tutelage, some countries for decades, during which they must remodel their economies according to the standard I.M.F. blueprint. In March 2000, a panel appointed to advise Congress on international financial institutions, named for its head, Allan Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon University, recommended unanimously that the I.M.F. should undertake only short-term crisis assistance and get out of the business of long-term economic micromanagement altogether.
The standard reforms deprive countries of flexibility, the power to get rich the way we know can work. ''Most Latin American countries have had deep reforms, have gone much further than India or China and haven't gotten much return for their effort,'' Birdsall says. ''Many of the reforms were about creating an efficient economy, but the economic technicalities are not addressing the fundamental question of why countries are not growing, or the constraint that all these people are being left out. Economists are way too allergic to the wishy-washy concept of fairness.''
The protesters in the street, the Asian financial crisis, criticism from respected economists like Stiglitz and Rodrik and those on the Meltzer Commission and particularly the growing realization in the circles of power that globalization is sustainable for wealthy nations only if it is acceptable to the poor ones are all combining to change the rules -- slightly. The debt-forgiveness initiative for the poorest nations, for all its limitations, is one example. The Asian crisis has modified the I.M.F.'s view on capital markets, and it is beginning to apply less pressure on countries in crisis to cut government spending. It is also debating whether it should be encouraging countries to adopt Chile's speed bumps. The incoming director of the W.T.O. is from Thailand, and third-world countries are beginning to assert themselves more and more.
But the changes do not alter the underlying idea of globalization, that openness is the universal prescription for all ills. ''Belt-tightening is not a development strategy,'' Sachs says. ''The I.M.F. has no sense that its job is to help countries climb a ladder.''
Sachs says that for many developing nations, even climbing the ladder is unrealistic. ''It can't work in an AIDS pandemic or an endemic malaria zone. I don't have a strategy for a significant number of countries, other than we ought to help them stay alive and control disease and have clean water. You can't do this purely on market forces. The prospects for the Central African Republic are not the same as for Shanghai, and it doesn't do any good to give pep talks.''
China, Chile and other nations show that under the right conditions, globalization can lift the poor out of misery. Hundreds of millions of poor people will never be helped by globalization, but hundreds of millions more could be benefiting now, if the rules had not been rigged to help the rich and follow abstract orthodoxies. Globalization can begin to work for the vast majority of the world's population only if it ceases to be viewed as an end in itself, and instead is treated as a tool in service of development: a way to provide food, health, housing and education to the wretched of the earth.Continue reading the main story
WHEN Donald Trump, the Republican presidential hopeful, claimed recently that President Barack Obama “is the founder” of Islamic State and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, the “co-founder”, even some of his supporters were perplexed. Surely he did not mean that literally? Perhaps, suggested Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host, he meant that the Obama administration’s rapid pull-out from Iraq “created the vacuum” that the terrorists then filled?
“No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS,” replied Mr Trump. “He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”
Mr Hewitt, who detests Mr Obama and has written a book denouncing Mrs Clinton’s “epic ambition”, was not convinced. “But he’s not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He’s trying to kill them,” he pushed back.
Again, Mr Trump did not give an inch: “I don’t care. He was the founder. The way he got out of Iraq was, that, that was the founding of ISIS, OK?”
For many observers, the exchange was yet more proof that the world has entered an era of “post-truth politics”. Mr Trump appears not to care whether his words bear any relation to reality, so long as they fire up voters. PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, has rated more of his statements “pants-on-fire” lies than of any other candidate—for instance his assertion that “inner city crime is reaching record levels”, which plays on unfounded fears that crime rates are rising (see chart 1).
And he is not the only prominent practitioner of post-truth politics. Britons voted to leave the European Union in June on the basis of a campaign of blatant misinformation, including the “fact” that EU membership costs their country £350m ($470m) a week, which could be spent instead on the National Health Service, and that Turkey is likely to join the EU by 2020.
Hang on, though. Don’t bruised elites always cry foul when they fail to persuade the masses of their truth? Don’t they always say the other side was peddling lies and persuaded ignoramuses to vote against their interest? Perhaps, some argue, British Remainers should accept the vote to leave the EU as an expression of justified grievance and an urge to take back control—not unlike the decision by many Americans to support Mr Trump.
There may have been some fibbing involved but it is hardly as though politics has ever been synonymous with truthfulness. “Those princes who do great things,” Machiavelli informed his readers, “have considered keeping their word of little account, and have known how to beguile men’s minds by shrewdness and cunning.” British ministers and prime ministers have lied to the press and to Parliament, as Anthony Eden did during the Suez affair. Lyndon Johnson misinformed the American people about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, thus getting the country into Vietnam. In 1986 Ronald Reagan insisted that his administration did not trade weapons for hostages with Iran, before having to admit a few months later that: “My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not.”
Fact or fiction
It is thus tempting to dismiss the idea of “post-truth” political discourse—the term was first used by David Roberts, then a blogger on an environmentalist website, Grist—as a modish myth invented by de-haut-en-bas liberals and sore losers ignorant of how dirty a business politics has always been. But that would be complacent. There is a strong case that, in America and elsewhere, there is a shift towards a politics in which feelings trump facts more freely and with less resistance than used to be the case. Helped by new technology, a deluge of facts and a public much less given to trust than once it was, some politicians are getting away with a new depth and pervasiveness of falsehood. If this continues, the power of truth as a tool for solving society’s problems could be lastingly reduced.
Reagan’s words point to an important aspect of what has changed. Political lies used to imply that there was a truth—one that had to be prevented from coming out. Evidence, consistency and scholarship had political power. Today a growing number of politicians and pundits simply no longer care. They are content with what Stephen Colbert, an American comedian, calls “truthiness”: ideas which “feel right” or “should be true”. They deal in insinuation (“A lot of people are saying...” is one of Mr Trump’s favourite phrases) and question the provenance, rather than accuracy, of anything that goes against them (“They would say that, wouldn’t they?”). And when the distance between what feels true and what the facts say grows too great, it can always be bridged with a handy conspiracy theory.
This way of thinking is not new. America saw a campaign against the allegedly subversive activities of the “Bavarian Illuminati” in the early 19th century, and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt against un-American activities in the 1950s. In 1964 a historian called Richard Hofstadter published “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”. When George W. Bush was president, the preposterous belief that the attacks of September 11th 2001 were an “inside job” spread far and wide among left-wingers, and became conventional wisdom in the Arab world.
The lie of the lands
Post-truth politics is advancing in many parts of the world. In Europe the best example is Poland’s ultranationalist ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS). Among other strange stories, it peddles lurid tales about Poland’s post-communist leaders plotting with the communist regime to rule the country together. In Turkey the protests at Gezi Park in 2013 and a recent attempted coup have given rise to all kinds of conspiracy theories, some touted by government officials: the first was financed by Lufthansa, a German airline (to stop Turkey from building a new airport which would divert flights from Germany), the second was orchestrated by the CIA.
Then there is Russia, arguably the country (apart from North Korea) that has moved furthest past truth, both in its foreign policy and internal politics. The Ukraine crisis offers examples aplenty: state-controlled Russian media faked interviews with “witnesses” of alleged atrocities, such as a child being crucified by Ukrainian forces; Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, did not hesitate to say on television that there were no Russian soldiers in Ukraine, despite abundant proof to the contrary.
Such dezinformatsiya may seem like a mere reversion to Soviet form. But at least the Soviets’ lies were meant to be coherent, argues Peter Pomerantsev, a journalist whose memoir of Mr Putin’s Russia is titled “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible”. In a study in 2014 for the Institute of Modern Russia, a think-tank, he quotes a political consultant for the president saying that in Soviet times, “if they were lying they took care to prove what they were doing was ‘the truth’. Now no one even tries proving ‘the truth’. You can just say anything. Create realities.”
In such creation it helps to keep in mind—as Mr Putin surely does—that humans do not naturally seek truth. In fact, as plenty of research shows, they tend to avoid it. People instinctively accept information to which they are exposed and must work actively to resist believing falsehoods; they tend to think that familiar information is true; and they cherry-pick data to support their existing views. At the root of all these biases seems to be what Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-prizewinning psychologist and author of a bestselling book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, calls “cognitive ease”: humans have a tendency to steer clear of facts that would force their brains to work harder.
In some cases confronting people with correcting facts even strengthens their beliefs, a phenomenon Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, now of Dartmouth College and the University of Exeter, respectively, call the “backfire effect”. In a study in 2010 they randomly presented participants either with newspaper articles which supported widespread misconceptions about certain issues, such as the “fact” that America had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or articles including a correction. Subjects in both groups were then asked how strongly they agreed with the misperception that Saddam Hussein had such weapons immediately before the war, but was able to hide or destroy them before American forces arrived.
As might be expected, liberals who had seen the correction were more likely to disagree than liberals who had not seen the correction. But conservatives who had seen the correction were even more convinced that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Further studies are needed, Mr Nyhan and Mr Reifler say, to see whether conservatives are indeed more prone to the backfire effect.
Given such biases, it is somewhat surprising that people can ever agree on facts, particularly in politics. But many societies have developed institutions which allow some level of consensus over what is true: schools, science, the legal system, the media. This truth-producing infrastructure, though, is never close to perfect: it can establish as truth things for which there is little or no evidence; it is constantly prey to abuse by those to whom it grants privileges; and, crucially, it is slow to build but may be quick to break.
Trust your gut
Post-truth politics is made possible by two threats to this public sphere: a loss of trust in institutions that support its infrastructure and deep changes in the way knowledge of the world reaches the public. Take trust first. Across the Western world it is at an all-time low, which helps explain why many prefer so-called “authentic” politicians, who “tell it how it is” (ie, say what people feel), to the wonkish type. Britons think that hairdressers and the “man in the street” are twice as trustworthy as business leaders, journalists and government ministers, according to a recent poll by Ipsos MORI. When Michael Gove, a leading Brexiteer, said before the referendum that “people in this country have had enough of experts” he may have had a point.
This loss of trust has many roots. In some areas—dietary advice, for example—experts seem to contradict each other more than they used to; governments get things spectacularly wrong, as with their assurances about the wisdom of invading Iraq, trusting in the world financial system and setting up the euro. But it would be a mistake to see the erosion of trust simply as a response to the travails of the world. In some places trust in institutions has been systematically undermined.
Mr Roberts first used the term “post-truth politics” in the context of American climate-change policy. In the 1990s many conservatives became alarmed by the likely economic cost of a serious effort to reduce carbon emissions. Some of the less scrupulous decided to cast doubt on the need for a climate policy by stressing to the point of distortion uncertainties in the underlying science. In a memo Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, argued: “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.” Challenging—and denigrating—scientists in order to make the truth seem distant and unknowable worked pretty well. One poll found that 43% of Republicans believe climate change is not happening at all, compared to 10% of Democrats.
Some conservative politicians, talk-show hosts and websites, have since included the scientific establishment in their list of institutions to bash, alongside the government itself, the courts of activist judges and the mainstream media. The populist wing of the conservative movement thus did much to create the conditions for the trust-only-your-prejudices world of Mr Trump’s campaign. Some are now having second thoughts. “We’ve basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers…There is nobody: you can’t go to anybody and say: ‘Look, here are the facts’” said Charlie Sykes, an influential conservative radio-show host, in a recent interview, adding that “When this is all over, we have to go back. There’s got to be a reckoning on all this.”
Yet gatekeepers would be in much less trouble without the second big factor in post-truth politics: the internet and the services it has spawned. Nearly two-thirds of adults in America now get news on social media and a fifth do so often, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Centre, a polling outfit; the numbers continue to grow fast.
On Facebook, Reddit, Twitter or WhatsApp, anybody can be a publisher. Content no longer comes in fixed formats and in bundles, such as articles in a newspaper, that help establish provenance and set expectations; it can take any shape—a video, a chart, an animation. A single idea, or “meme”, can replicate shorn of all context, like DNA in a test tube. Data about the spread of a meme has become more important than whether it is based on facts.
The mechanisms of these new media are only now beginning to be understood. One crucial process is “homophilous sorting”: like-minded people forming clusters. The rise of cable and satellite television channels in the 1980s and 1990s made it possible to serve news tailored to specific types of consumer; the internet makes it much easier. According to Yochai Benkler of Harvard University in his book “The Wealth of Networks”, individuals with shared interests are far more likely to find each other or converge around a source of information online than offline. Social media enable members of such groups to strengthen each other’s beliefs, by shutting out contradictory information, and to take collective action.
Fringe beliefs reinforced in these ways can establish themselves and persist long after outsiders deem them debunked: see, for example, online communities devoted to the idea that the government is spraying “chemtrails” from high-flying aircraft or that evidence suggesting that vaccines cause autism is being suppressed. As Eric Oliver of the University of Chicago points out in a forthcoming book, “Enchanted America: The Struggle between Reason and Intuition in US Politics”, this is the sort of thinking that comes naturally to Mr Trump: he was once devoted to the “birther” fantasy that Mr Obama was not born an American.
Following Mr Oliver’s ideas about the increasing role of “magical thinking” on the American populist right, The Economist asked YouGov to look at different elements of magical thinking, including belief in conspiracies and a fear of terrible things, like a Zika outbreak or a terrorist attack, happening soon. Even after controlling for party identification, religion and age, there was a marked correlation with support for Mr Trump (see chart 2): 55% of voters who scored positively on our conspiracism index favoured him, compared with 45% of their less superstitious peers. These measures were not statistically significant predictors of support for Mitt Romney, the far more conventional Republican presidential candidate in 2012.
From fringe to forefront
Self-reinforcing online communities are not just a fringe phenomenon. Even opponents of TTIP, a transatlantic free-trade agreement, admit that the debate over it in Austria and Germany has verged on the hysterical, giving rise to outlandish scare stories—for instance that Europe would be flooded with American chickens treated with chlorine. “Battling TTIP myths sometimes feels like taking on Russian propaganda,” says an EU trade official.
The tendency of netizens to form self-contained groups is strengthened by what Eli Pariser, an internet activist, identified five years ago as the “filter bubble”. Back in 2011 he worried that Google’s search algorithms, which offer users personalised results according to what the system knows of their preferences and surfing behaviour, would keep people from coming across countervailing views. Facebook subsequently became a much better—or worse—example. Although Mark Zuckerberg, the firm’s founder, insists that his social network does not trap its users in their own world, its algorithms are designed to populate their news feeds with content similar to material they previously “liked”. So, for example, during the referendum campaign Leavers mostly saw pro-Brexit items; Remainers were served mainly pro-EU fare.
But though Facebook and other social media can filter news according to whether it conforms with users’ expectations, they are a poor filter of what is true. Filippo Menczer and his team at Indiana University used data from Emergent, a now defunct website, to see whether there are differences in popularity between articles containing “misinformation” and those containing “reliable information”. They found that the distribution in which both types of articles were shared on Facebook are very similar (see chart 3). “In other words, there is no advantage in being correct,” says Mr Menczer.
If Facebook does little to sort the wheat from the chaff, neither does the market. Online publications such as National Report, Huzlers and the World News Daily Report have found a profitable niche pumping out hoaxes, often based on long-circulating rumours or prejudices, in the hope that they will go viral and earn clicks. Newly discovered eyewitness accounts of Jesus’s miracles, a well-known ice-tea brand testing positive for urine, a “transgender woman” caught taking pictures of an underage girl in the bathroom of a department store—anything goes in this parallel news world. Many share such content without even thinking twice, let alone checking to determine if it is true.
Weakened by shrinking audiences and advertising revenues, and trying to keep up online, mainstream media have become part of the problem. “Too often news organisations play a major role in propagating hoaxes, false claims, questionable rumours and dubious viral content, thereby polluting the digital information stream,” writes Craig Silverman, now the editor of BuzzFeed Canada, in a study for the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at the Columbia Journalism School. It does not help that the tools to keep track of and even predict the links most clicked on are getting ever better. In fact, this helps explain why Mr Trump has been getting so much coverage, says Matt Hindman of George Washington University.
Equally important, ecosystems of political online publications have emerged on Facebook—both on the left and the right. Pages such as Occupy Democrats and Make America Great can have millions of fans. They pander mostly to the converted, but in these echo chambers narratives can form before they make it into the wider political world. They have helped build support for both Bernie Sanders and Mr Trump, but it is the latter’s campaign, friendly media outlets and political surrogates that are masters at exploiting social media and its mechanisms.
A case in point is the recent speculation about the health of Mrs Clinton. It started with videos purporting to show Mrs Clinton suffering from seizures, which garnered millions of views online. Breitbart News, an “alt-right” web publisher that gleefully supports Mr Trump—Stephen Bannon, the site’s boss, took over as the Trump campaign’s “chief executive officer” last month—picked up the story. “I’m not saying that, you know, she had a stroke or anything like that, but this is not the woman we’re used to seeing,” Mr Bannon said. Mr Trump mentioned Mrs Clinton’s health in a campaign speech. Rudy Giuliani, a former mayor of New York, urged people to look for videos on the internet that support the speculation. The Clinton campaign slammed what it calls “deranged conspiracy theories”, but doubts are spreading and the backfire effect is in full swing.
Such tactics would make Dmitry Kiselyov proud. “The age of neutral journalism has passed,” the Kremlin’s propagandist-in-chief recently said in an interview. “It is impossible because what you select from the huge sea of information is already subjective.” The Russian government and its media, such as Rossiya Segodnya, an international news agency run by Mr Kiselyov, produce a steady stream of falsehoods, much like fake-news sites in the West. The Kremlin deploys armies of “trolls” to fight on its behalf in Western comment sections and Twitter feeds (see article). Its minions have set up thousands of social-media “bots” and other spamming weapons to drown out other content.
“Information glut is the new censorship,” says Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina, adding that other governments are now employing similar tactics. China’s authorities, for instance, do not try to censor everything they do not like on social media, but often flood the networks with distracting information. Similarly, in post-coup Turkey the number of dubious posts and tweets has increased sharply. “Even I can no longer really tell what is happening in parts of Turkey,” says Ms Tufekci, who was born in the country.
This plurality of voices is not in itself a bad thing. Vibrant social media are often a power for good, allowing information to spread that would otherwise be bottled up. In Brazil and Malaysia social media have been the conduit for truth about a corruption scandal involving Petrobras, the state oil company, and the looting of 1MDB, a state-owned investment fund. And there are ways to tell good information from bad. Fact-checking sites are multiplying, and not just in America: there are now nearly 100, according to the Reporters’ Lab at Duke University. Social media have started to police their platforms more heavily: Facebook recently changed the algorithm that decides what users see in their newsfeeds to filter out more clickbait. Technology will improve: Mr Menczer and his team at Indiana University are building tools that can, among other things, detect whether a bot is behind a Twitter account.
The truth is out there
The effectiveness of such tools, the use of such filters and the impact of such sites depends on people making the effort to seek them out and use them. And the nature of the problem—that the post-truth strategy works because it allows people to forgo critical thinking in favour of having their feelings reinforced by soundbite truthiness—suggests that such effort may not be forthcoming. The alternative is to take the power out of users’ hands and recreate the gatekeepers of old. “We need to increase the reputational consequences and change the incentives for making false statements,” says Mr Nyhan of Dartmouth College. “Right now, it pays to be outrageous, but not to be truthful.”
But trying to do this would be a tall order for the cash-strapped remnants of old media. It is not always possible or appropriate for reporters to opine as to what is true or not, as opposed to reporting what is said by others. The courage to name and shame chronic liars—and stop giving them a stage—is hard to come by in a competitive marketplace the economic basis of which is crumbling. Gatekeeping power will always bring with it a temptation for abuse—and it will take a long time for people to come to believe that temptation can be resisted even if it is.
But if old media will be hard put to get a new grip on the gates, the new ones that have emerged so far do not inspire much confidence as an alternative. Facebook (which now has more than 1.7 billion monthly users worldwide) and other social networks do not see themselves as media companies, which implies a degree of journalistic responsibility, but as tech firms powered by algorithms. And putting artificial intelligence in charge may be a recipe for disaster: when Facebook recently moved to automate its “trending” news section, it promoted a fake news story which claimed that Fox News had fired an anchor, Megyn Kelly, for being a “traitor”.
And then there is Mr Trump, whose Twitter following of over 11m makes him a gatekeeper of a sort in his own right. His moment of truth may well come on election day; the odds are that he will lose. If he does so, however, he will probably claim that the election was rigged—thus undermining democracy yet further. And although his campaign denies it, reports have multiplied recently that he is thinking about creating a “mini-media conglomerate”, a cross of Fox and Breitbart News, to make money from the political base he has created. Whatever Mr Trump comes up with next, with or without him in the White House, post-truth politics will be with us for some time to come.
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