Fake News, Markets and the Death of Democracy

Just how vulnerable are markets to an escalating distrust of politics, the death of democracy, populism, and authoritarianism, and how much of it is due to deliberate manipulation by bad actors and fake news? Uncertain in uncertain markets isn’t helping.

Blain’s Morning Porridge 8th February 2022 – Fake News, Markets and the Death of Democracy

“In a world where you biases are being constantly confirmed, you will be infected by fake news, propaganda and demagoguery”

This morning – Just how vulnerable are markets to an escalating distrust of politics, the death of democracy, populism, and authoritarianism, and how much of it is due to deliberate manipulation by bad actors and fake news? Uncertain in uncertain markets isn’t helping.

As I write this morning’s porridge I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to publish. I should really get down to weighing the pros and cons of Netflix, or consider how warnings of a collapse in corporate earnings and crashing emerging market spreads will accelerate my thesis from yesterday that it will be credit markets that trigger the big downturn.

Instead… lets take a risk. I will deliberately wade into politics. Every time I do I get subscription cancellations, telling me I know nothing, how biased I am, and comments like if I’m “so goddam clever, why did you get vaxxed..”. I give up on these folk.. but they matter. According to my bias, its important we try to understand why so many western voters are prepared to destroy democracy in order to save it. These same people are thinking the same things about me…

Just how much should markets worry about politics?

Does the way people are thinking about how they will vote actually matter?

Humans have bumbled along for seven thousand years of recorded history and experimented with every kind of leadership format –autocratic to democratic, messianic to committees – and we’ve still grown. No matter how bad, we’ve resisted the temptation to climb back into the trees – like Douglas Adams I wonder how big a mistake coming down in the first place was.

Transitions between the different forms of human leadership are often bloody and destructive. History shows society goes through sudden shocking chaotic phases – for a whole series of reasons.

I would hate to add to the torrent of excitable, end-of-the-world, conspiracy twaddle and nonsense you can binge-read on alt-right-wing platform…. But society is facing a potential crisis. Our faith in the politics of democracy is collapsing. The speed at which the underpinnings of society are being taken down is shocking. Shocks create uncertainty, uncertainty is bad for markets. Decency is out the proverbial window.

The problem is – it looks deliberate. Fake news media is roiling democracy. Unstable governments – as we are clearly seeing in the US and UK – can’t function and certainly won’t deliver. But, it’s not just a Anglo-Saxon problem. It’s global. The West feels like it’s trending towards populism and authoritarianism.

When I read the news out of Ukraine – about false flags, whatever – I now find myself doubting the news. My faith in the news is diminished. Without real news how can I made the decisions I’m required to make for our business?

The sight yesterday of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition being attacked on the Streets of London by thugs screaming traitor, and yelling “Jimmy Saville” at him, shows fake news can replicate and spread faster than Omicron. Saville was a paedophile whose depravity, enabled by his position as a favoured “personality”, became sickeningly clear after his death.

Last week, our Premier, BumbleBlondeBoris, made the utterly baseless and unfounded accusation that Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer, while director of public prosecutions under the last Labour Government, had conspired not to prosecute Saville. The accusation was a desperate flail by the floundering prime minister, and so shocking one of his closest aides resigned in disgust at Boris’ desperate despicable deflection.  Sure, the assailants were thugs – but thugs who believed the Prime Minister’s lies.

Or how about these Heroes of Liberty – the truck drivers making the lives of the Citizens of Ottawa a living nightmare. Convinced of their righteousness in Defence of Freedom, its ok for them to call for the fall of the Canadian government for its temerity in daring to protect Canadian citizens from Covid. The fact the US ambassador to Canada is warning US citizens not to inflame and impose their views on a foreign nation suggests where many of the Maple Leaf bearing trucks actually hail from.

The lesson from Canada is how the actions of a tiny minority of malcontents can be whipped into a frenzy by well placed suggestions. They now consider themselves on a crusade on the back of the popular support they think they are getting. Let’s face it – 90% of ‘Mericans and even more Canadians just want to go back to a quiet life… but if you can whip up a frenzy about how the vaccines are Billy Gates way of murdering us with 5G radio signals, and dress it up in claptrap about patriotic duty… there are enough idiots out there to believe they are virtuous…

Less than 10% of Canadians are unvaccinated, yet a relatively small number of noisy Truckers are holding Ottawa to ransom while inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of residents with their Anti-Vax demands. Supporters of “freedom” around the globe praise them for their bravery in the face of state tyranny – just like they praised the 6000 Americans who stormed the capitol last year in the misguided belief they were saving democracy by destroying it. Heaven help us from stupid…

Or maybe there is clue in how quickly Joe Rogan, the Spotify podcaster whose rambling postings so infuriated Neil Young. When some of his posts were taken down by Spotify, he received a 4-year $100mm offer from the “alt-right” Rumble steamer to host his truth and conversations. (All publicity is good publicity – apparently Neil is selling more music than even on the back of his Spotify exit, according to Hipgnosis, the song fund that paid $160mm for half his rights last year…)

Or how about the news from Israel this morning about how NSO’s Pegasus spyware has been used to hack the phones of prominent citizens protesting against the previous regime?

Fake news, disinformation and destabilisation has become an art form. Boris wielded it clumsily last week. The guys trying to take down Canadian premier, Justin Trudeau have a much clearer vision, aim and agenda.

As regular readers of the Porridge will be aware I lean to the soft left. (Its genetic – Scots come out the womb with a unshakable hatred of injustice..) The fake news I perceive is overwhelmingly from the right – but that will be because, like everyone, I have a bias to disbelief when its politics I disagree with.

Everyone will tend to agree with the political stories which agree with their belief set. I am vulnerable to left-wing fake news… In exactly the same way right-leaning chums find it easy to agree with much of what I perceive to be right-wing vitriol. It doesn’t mean they are idiots (although some are) – when they read stories about defunding the police they feel as strongly against that as I feel about police brutality. In the past there was balance. Today there is none.

I’m inclined to believe it’s a very small number of very clever, media savvy libertarians who’ve set up the Alt-right fake-news media with the express intention of destabilising modern liberal economies to make their replacement with more authoritarian permanent right-wing regimes acceptable. Other actors no doubt include the Russians and the Chinese using news to destablise the west, as we no doubt do against them.

What’s to gain from manipulating the truth? To overcome left-wing bias in favour of liberal policies like immigration, minority rights, climate change, environment and benefits and replace them with the politics of the right? Others may be working on behalf of corporate interests. Who knows, but the fake news purveyors know how to hit people’s buttons.

Fake news is a massively destabilising factor we are only now coming to understand in relation to markets.

Over the weekend I was introduced to a new portmanteau word: “Trumptardation” in the context of the Trumptardation of Western Democracy.

A fund manager in Dubai used it to describe the current disintegration process of politics across the “democratic” West. He stressed the Donald Trump presidency is but one example of collapsing democracy – he’s sees in France, the UK, across Eastern Europe, but most definitely in the US.

One aspect is how across the globe “democratic” politicians believe they are above the laws. In order to achieve “Freedom” they are increasingly willing to deny it. The result is an accelerating trend towards authoritarian government. In the UK we have a premier reinforcing his control of cabinet while taking zero responsibility for breaking lockdown diseases. In the US, a former president’s dubious tax affairs and attempt to illegally hold on to power go unprosecuted – protected by a party in thrall to his populism – punishing members of the party who disagree.

The result is gridlock. The Democrats won’t let go their fury at Trump, and the Republicans won’t acknowledge what Trump has done. Politics and repairing the US is on hold. When I read about US Trump Supporters donating to Democrat stooges, I wonder how long before the Presidency is auctioned off to the highest bidder! In France, Macron will win the coming election – but only because the right is split, meaning years more finding anyone else to blame. Europe will be riven by disputes. And the UK? United for how much longer…?

While politics isn’t markets, politics clearly affect markets. The increasing swing toward authoritarianism and populism will have significant long-term macro consequences.

Five Things to Read This Morning

Forbes – Billionaire Republican Donors Are Now Giving to Manchin and Sinema.

FT – Peter Thiel plans to leave board of Facebook owner Meta

WSJ – California’s Solar-Power Welfare State

WSJ – Green Startups Stumble, Accelerating Selloff of Risky Stocks

Torygraph – North Sea oil and gas fields to be fired up amid Cabinet Row over Net Zero

Out of time, and back to day job

Bill Blain

Strategist – Shard Capital


  1. Unfortunately the soft left is immune to the real source of fake news – the soft left media.
    Your correct scepticism on news of Ukraine is accurate here. 150k troops lined up against the border of Donbas being armed with modern weapons from the UK and SAS as trainers. It is quite clear who is planning to invade whom – which of course explains the clarity of the false message.

    Starmer (who is actually the favoured son of the modern elite in a way Boris never will be). Either he took responsibility for the decision on Saville, or he avoided responsibility. Take you pick, I’d say Boris was being kind.

    • I get to censor comments before they are approved.
      I am only letting this piece of absolute codswallop through to illustrate the basic lack of decency that is destroying democracy. Its an example of believe what you want to believe… You are simply perpetuating the lie that Starmer is responsible for Saville… throw enough mud and hope some will stick. Shame on you.
      Please unsubscribe.

  2. It is interesting that you say that libertarian’s true aim is to install authoritarian regimes. You’ve got me confused now. So people who wanted lockdowns implemented sooner, harder and for longer, their aim is freedom?

    • “No practical definition of freedom would be completely without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all the others are based. –Lord Havelock Vetinari-”

      The history of both right wing authoritarian states and left wing revolutions is they all proclaim liberty and then lock people up.

  3. “Modern life is a muddle dictated by advanced technology, dated political systems and Stone Age impulses”

    Edward O Wilson, conservationist and naturalist, who died last December aged 92

  4. Thanks for the commentary, Bill. Please know there are those who lean “soft right” just as horrifically astonished with the political landscape today as you are.

  5. I’m an American citizen living in Toronto, Canada. I also have relatives in the UK. I often converse with all my American, Canadian and British relatives about the populist movements in our respective countries. I have often wondered about the effect of these authoritarian movements upon the markets. At any rate, I think that we are in for a bumpy ride for the rest of the decade.

  6. Dear Bill,
    Good on you for taking a chance by placing your views :up for public comment. I agree that fake news, intolerance, and general nastiness are undermining democracies around the world. I’d add a few observations as well.
    1.left/ right don’t describe much any more. Old political definitions are splintering and newer coalitions haven’t fully formed. 2. Governments, political parties, social media, and even idividuals are so financialized that we have a hard time considering much beyond self-interest. 3. We can’t seem to debate an opponent’s ideas, but rather we concentrate on slandering the opponent. OK now a bone to pick.
    Libertarianism seeks less government intervention, not right wing authoritarian regimes. Are there idiot libertaraians? Yep, plenty, just as there are idiots in every group. OK now to something depressing.
    Your fellow Scot, Alexander Tytler, said it best….. ” A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury,” That applies to tech billionaires as well as benefit cheats. Now a real downer; have you read The Storm before the Storm by Mike Duncan? History often does repeat.

  7. I am in Canada and I have to say that the issue here is our rights and freedoms as laid out in !980 Charter are being unjustly abbrogated. Brian Peckford is still alive and was one of the writers of that charter. He has denounced the actions of our current Prime Minister. Today the chief security police officer has resigned as Head of Justin’s personal security. You have it wrong about this “fringe minority” and no , those are Canadian trucks and tractors.


  8. Like you I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out a solution to this fake news problem. I think that we (society) have gone past the point of stability and the situation will have to become much worse before it becomes better. Reality will have to punch people in the nose. The getting better process won’t happen in my lifetime, I am too old at 66. It might start in a couple of generations. Unfortunately reality punching us in the nose will happen to both those who promulgate and are influenced by fake news and those who are not.

    I used to try to give well reasoned logical arguments against fake news but quickly found that it could take every second of the day. I usually try to put the situation in historical context but I haven’t found a sufficiently close parallel. Chile in 1973?

  9. The Strauss–Howe generational theory, devised by William Strauss and Neil Howe, describes a theorized recurring generation cycle in global history. In the theory, Institutions are at their weakest when a Fourth Turning is close.

    Your observations confirm my biases, which is why I read your blog. I guess. Keep up the good work!

  10. I have come to the same conclusion, Bill. I think there IS a broad co-ordinated campaign to disrupt and mould public opinion for the gain of the few at the expense of the many. But like you, I don’t buy the global conspiracy theories (although they are great fun to read) because I don’t believe in the capability of organisations (be they political, economic or media) to implement such a complex initiative, especially not in secret. I DO however believe, like you, that there are multiple vested interests working in concert, sometimes deliberately but often by happy coincidence, that at passing glance do look as if they are part of a Grand Plan. Democracy can only survive when information and expression are free, and I can’t see how the current trend towards authoritarianism can be stopped when the flow of information is controlled by a few powerful individuals. It may take a profound societal shock to trigger an effective challenge – the mid-20thC has a few cracking examples. Let’s hope not too much of the good is destroyed in the process. PS. Love your blog, thought provoking and entertaining – just don’t know how you find the time to keep it going, but I’m very glad you do!

  11. “Less than 10% of Canadians are unvaccinated, yet a relatively small number of noisy Truckers are holding Ottawa to ransom while inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of residents with their Anti-Vax demands”

    You confuse the vaccinated as supporters of the Covid measures and government overreach. How many people got vaccinated so that they wouldn’t loose their employment, so that they could visit their parents or so that they could move freely in their society versus those who got vaccinated out of a genuine fear of the virus and of it’s effects of their health? I believe the former is the significant majority – but that is just my opinion.

    That being said, I commend you on acknowledging the biases that we all carry, on the left or right. Most would not admit as much of their own vulnerability to such bias – Bravo Zulu (well done)

  12. Doesn’t matter any longer whether you are soft left, hard right, whatever your political leaning…people are so frustrated and have a desire to be listened to; for a return to democracy, debate and critical thinking which is being eroded by global surveillance capitalism, dishonesty in the media, censorship and (what feels inevitable now) a move to tech-backed Government controlled ID passports – check out Sweden already microchipping!

  13. I’m a recent follower of your blog because I find your economics and finance insights to be fantastic reading.

    But in these political pieces you seem to have a blind spot the size of an elephant, I find it amazing how you condemn misinformation from conservative media while including left-wing disinformation in your article. In regard to the Canadian Freedom Convoy, you repeat the mainstream media and Liberal government disinformation that suggests that Canada is 90% vaccinated. If you go to the Government of Canada Covid info website you’ll find that while 84% have had at least one dose, 78% are fully vaccinated and 40% have had the booster with many not intending to get the booster. So it’s not a tiny fringe minority. You suggest that the truckers are demanding the downfall of the government … they are demanding no such thing … they want the repeal of the vaccine mandate. They also have huge popular support. I myself am double-vaccinated but am strongly opposed to a mandate for an experimental genetic drug in a situation that is clearly no longer an emergency. I am strongly considering passing on the booster because I had a fairly severe 2-month long adverse neurological reaction to the second shot that started 2 days after vaccination. You suggest that because of support from American truckers that the US is somehow behind this. As a Canadian I can tell you that it originated in Canada and has a huge amount of popular support … but you would never know that from the mainstream media. I think the protest organizers have made a strategic error in committing themselves to disrupting the good people of Ottawa until the government concedes, because that won’t happen under an autocrat like Trudeau and they will lose some support over time.

    I respect your economics and finance knowledge Bill, but please inform yourself at least a little bit about the other side of the story (because mainstream media today is just narrative, without much regard for truth), before you participate in passing on misinformation.

  14. For a guy who leans solidly to the right i have just discovered your articles and enjoy them immensely. As a 59 year old man who remembered the day where I could have a great conversation with my democrat friends sadly those days are done for now hoping someday they return…my biggest observation during the Trump years was the amount of disgruntlement I received from these Democratic friends for voting for him…would it be now my turn to the tables on them sadly no…but it sure has me thinking twice…especially when all I want is a decent conversation about my right feelings without getting screamed at by the left.

  15. As an expat with Yorkshire origins I read this blog and the Spectator. If you wan to know where democracy is alive and well, look no further than this: https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/parliament-shows-the-best-of-itself.
    When people loose respect for institutions, it is important that those who run and work in those institutions set an example, and the above is the best example I have seen for a long time. Long live the UK, Boris is the last gasp of a dysfunctional upper class system, and hopefully there will be more like Guy Opperman who embodies the qualities of a Rap Butler from the past conservatives.

  16. As someone who lives in Ottawa, and has followed this closely… I would say that your knowledge is limited at best. I am fully “vaxxed” (for what that is worth these days), socially liberal, upper income. And the Freedom Convoy has the popularity of 30% Canadians as it is representing pushback against Covid restrictions that are no longer relevant. Your left-wing bias is colouring your ability to make rational observations of the broader issues.

    I have tried to post on your blog before (totally benign stuff about energy, mostly in agreement with you) but it never made it, so I harbour no illusions that this will be published either.

Comments are closed.