Potemkin village

Politics, signaling

A Potemkin village is a country's attempt to signal that it's doing well, even though it's doing poorly.

Wikipedia: "The term comes from stories of a fake portable village built by Grigory Potemkin, former lover of Empress Catherine II, solely to impress the Empress during her journey to Crimea in 1787. While modern historians agree that accounts of this portable village are exaggerated, the original story was that Potemkin erected phony portable settlements along the banks of the Dnieper River in order to impress the Russian Empress; the structures would be disassembled after she passed, and re-assembled farther along her route to be viewed again as if another example."

Consider a more modern example of Turkmenistan's capital city, Ashgabat, with enormously expensive buildings, hotels, stadiums, indoor ferris wheels and 18-lane roads... that no one uses. Or consider how during the 1980 Olympics in the Soviet Union, they had painted only the road-facing walls of houses on the way to Moscow. Why bother with the entire house when one wall creates the perception? Similar stories exist from newer Olympics; global events are a juicy opportunity for government signaling.

The term Potemkin village has been used more metaphorically to refer to any construct aimed at signaling you're doing well when you're not. For example,  consider a creator trying to signal that their newsletter is doing well - they'll talk of "readers" and visitors to their website and other Potemkin metrics, but they won't talk of subscribers or money.

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