Being Honest About Lying

Jonathan Caulkins argues in favor of the government deliberately misleading (and lying to?) the public:

I think it OK (meaning not unconstitutional and not outrageous if the majority want it) for the government to promote health and well being through public health campaigns that seek to change behavior, particularly when the campaigns are directed toward youth. I generally prefer for such campaigns to achieve their ends simply by providing accurate information, but acknowledge that sometimes appealing to emotions or providing only selective information is more effective at changing behavior. So those who design and implement public health campaigns end up trying to strike a balance between two sets of values: promoting health and respecting individual autonomy by merely informing, rather than trying to sway decisionmaking. [...]

For example, the income gap between high school graduates and dropouts is often reported without adjusting for omitted variables such as differences in intelligence; youth are left to infer, incorrectly, that the observed gap is all caused by dropping out of school. Likewise, my elementary school kids were taught that cigarettes contain rat poison. I suspect that is true in some sense. Among the very many chemicals in tobacco and its combustion byproducts, there is probably one that is an active ingredient in rat poison. But I doubt it is one of the top ten by weight, so omitting mention of the others is selective reporting, and describing the chemical as “rat poison” rather than using a more technically precise term is clearly appealing to emotions.

The problem with a policy of deliberately misleading the public is that once the public finds out what you are doing, they aren't going to trust you anymore. This does not help the cause of public health that Caulkins is trying to promote. Whatever benefits might result from the transmission of accurate and helpful information are put in peril if lies and half-truths are thrown into the mix. It's the worst form of short-term thinking; a shortsighted act-utilitarianism as opposed to long-term rule-utilitarianism.

The more I learn about various illegal drugs in my adult life, the more I realize that what I learned in school was a bunch of lies. This is a reason to do more drugs, not less, for I am extra skeptical of any anti-drug propaganda emanating from all but the most trusted sources (such as Erowid).

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I'd also add that when the

I'd also add that when the policy works it simply encourages more lie-telling. "Hey, it worked here lets try it there." And lies are hard to counter-act. Recall the old saying, "A lie gets half-way around the world before the truth gets its boots on." A nice simple lie is extremely effective especially when the truth is more subtly and requires a much longer explanation. This kind of "for the greater good" justification for morally repugnant behavior is, IMO, even more morally repugnant. Caulkins should be ashamed of himself and the example he has set for his children.