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The Nocebos of Politics

Everyone has heard of the placebo effect. You take a pill that you think is real and because subjective reality is caused by your brain predicting stuff - oh my prophetic soul - the fake pill causes real physical changes. However, there is a lesser-known companion effect called the nocebo effect. This happens when the patient anticipates negative side effects of a treatment even if that treatment is a placebo, or before it has been administered. You feel the pain of the needle before the injection. As with the placebo effect, the pain is real because pain is the subjective experience rather than an objective event. In politics, we can spot placebos a mile off - which renders them strikingly ineffective as placebos. Lip service, token gestures, thoughts and prayers, clap for carers: all seek to create a positive effect without doing any of the heavy lifting involved in real change. To misquote GK Chesterton, they are the tax that indifference pays to virtue. And like taxes, they are fa…

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