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Betteridge’s Law

Summary:
Betteridge’s Law has two different meanings. The first is as stated:Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.As stated it is not actually true - “The correct amount of QE is?” can only be answered with “No” in a - not very - humorous attempt to deny the utility of the concept itself. The deeper truth is as a warning to journalists (or, in the older style, the subeditors who used to write headlines) not to write headlines that can be so answered. Or, in another tradition, only when it is known that the answer is no but everyone would prefer not to say so.At which point, The Times: Can Joe Biden restore the soul of a divided nation?Well, no, clearly not. Nations don’t have souls, even the most collectivist of religions insists that only human beings do.

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Betteridge’s Law has two different meanings. The first is as stated:

Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.

As stated it is not actually true - “The correct amount of QE is?” can only be answered with “No” in a - not very - humorous attempt to deny the utility of the concept itself. The deeper truth is as a warning to journalists (or, in the older style, the subeditors who used to write headlines) not to write headlines that can be so answered. Or, in another tradition, only when it is known that the answer is no but everyone would prefer not to say so.

At which point, The Times:

Can Joe Biden restore the soul of a divided nation?

Well, no, clearly not. Nations don’t have souls, even the most collectivist of religions insists that only human beings do. Further, division is something rather to be desired in a nation - we after, after all, all different bundles of desires and wants and one single national purpose is going to run roughshod over that idea.

But rather more important than that, and what makes this something for us to comment upon, is that talk of souls and nations is not the subject of politics. That last is about organising the rubbish collections. To start talking of politics and eternal verities is to reify what is meant to be a very workaday process. As is well known we tend to favour minarchy around here and this is one of the reasons why. Any expansive political system of management is going to end up sending tendrils into areas where that system simply doesn’t work at all, let alone badly.

Government should do only those things that must be done and which can only be done by government - a small set of actions.

Another way of putting this, which recent or even future holder of the office of President (or even, which politician in any office) would you entrust your soul, individual or collective? So, no…….

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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