Thomas Erskine defended Thomas Paine after authorities decided to persecute him for the radical ideas contained in his Rights of Man. Here, Erskine tells a story that explains to Paine’s prosecutors why someone who threatens force during an argument is almost surely wrong:
You must all remember, gentlemen, Lucian’s pleasant story: Jupiter and a countryman were walking together, conversing with great freedom and familiarity upon the subject of heaven and earth. The countryman listened with attention and acquiescence while Jupiter strove only to convince him; but happening to hint a doubt, Jupiter turned hastily around and threatened him with his thunder. ‘Ah, ha!’ says the countryman, ‘now, Jupiter, I know that you are wrong; you are always wrong when you appeal to your thunder.’
Quoted from J.B. Bury, A History of Freedom of Thought, pp. 130-31.
He’s right. An argument can only truly be won on the merits.The world would be a better place if more people realized that.
As debt-limit talks heat up, President Obama told Rep. Eric Cantor, “Don’t call my bluff.”
This implies that he was bluffing.
If the President wants to win the negotiations, he would be better off keeping that information to himself.
It’s because people rely on ad hominems and straw-man arguments. These leave the opponents’ actual arguments untouched, and resolve nothing.
So true is it that, in science as elsewhere, we fight for and against not men and things as they are, but for and against the caricatures we make of them.
-Joseph Schumpter, History of Economic Analysis, p. 90.
Overuse (and misuse) of the word “like” is an obstacle to clear speaking and clear thinking. It is also a signal to the rest of the world that one need not be taken seriously.
Christopher Hitchens has an amusing article on the history of “like,” pointing out that “in some cases the term has become simultaneously a crutch and a tic, driving out the rest of the vocabulary as candy expels vegetables. But it didn’t start off that way, and might possibly be worth saving in a modified form.”
I largely agree. Read the whole thing over at Vanity Fair.
Alex Nowrasteh and I expected some negative feedback on our article today on immigration reform in The American Spectator Online. We’re probably in the minority for favoring liberalization. And we’re probably a minority of that minority for using the law of demand as our primary argument.
I have a special affection for the Spectator; they were the first outlet to publish me more than once. They’ve let me write on all kinds of issues, from sports to politics to toxicology to economics, no matter what perspective I come from. Even better, I’ve gotten tons of thoughtful feedback from some very smart readers over the years. And we got plenty of that today from people who disagree with us, as expected. This is always welcome.
But one of today’s commenters makes me concerned about the level of debate on immigration. This is especially important since this divisive issue is heating up again in the wake of Arizona’s new law. I’ve reprinted his or her comment below unedited, and will offer no further editorializing, other than that this commenter in no way reflects on the Spectator, and that I hope it is satire.
Northern Rebel| 4.27.10 @ 4:15PM
Our “President’ admires communist countries, so I suggest he adopt the methods to prevent illegal immigration, that they use:
Torture, and Execution!
I posit the notion, that if we shot people the second they crossed into our country, illegal immigration would be a problem no more.
After the first hundred or so shootings, people would realize that we were serious about protecting our borders.
Let the shooting begin!
Ari Fleischer, President Bush’s former press secretary, has a piece in today’s New York Times that is, to be polite, dumb.
His article is a lament that the Yankees only seem to win championships when Democrats are in the White House. Fleischer is both a Republican and a Yankee fan. What is he to do?
Yes, Fleischer presumably wrote with tongue in cheek. His argument is still stupid.
Correlation does not equal causation. There is no causal relation between the current president’s party afiliation and who wins the World Series. Fleischer has no need to fret about his divided loyalties. Maybe one reason the Times is doing do badly is that it too often uses its scarce op-ed space for fluff instead of substance.
Posted in Argumentation, Media, Philosophy
Tagged ari fleischer, causation, correlation, correlation does not equal causation, democrat, new york times, president, republican, white house, world series, Yankees
Over at NPR, George Mason professor Russ Roberts looks at why Goldman Sachs prospers as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers die, despite following more or less similar business practices. Key point:
[C]apitalism is a profit and loss system. The profits encourage risk-taking. The losses encourage prudence. If the taxpayer almost always eats the losses for the losers, you don’t have capitalism. You have crony capitalism.
The content deserves close study. So does the delivery; Russ is one of the clearest economics writers there is.
Posted in Argumentation, Bailouts, Economics, Philosophy
Tagged bailout, bear stearns, capitalism, crony capitalism, goldman sachs, lehman brothers, npr, russ roberts, wall street
Some of the consequences of increasing government’s role in health care are easy to predict. One is that cutting costs requires cutting the amount of care. That means rationing. People judged not deserving of care would be denied it.
Another is that if government uses its increased bargaining power to lower drug prices, there will be less money for R&D. That means less innovation. That could well mean the end of increasing life expectancies.
Some people see these consequences and oppose more government in health care (I refuse to call President Obama and Congress’ proposal a reform; that word implies improvement). Others see those same consequences as reasons for supporting proposed legislation.
Today’s issue of OpinionJournal’s Political Diary (requires paid subscription) shows that Robert Reich, who supports government-run health care, realizes its effects on rationing and innovation, supports it anyway, and said so in a public speech at UC Berkeley in 2007.
Mr. Reich told the Berkeley youngsters: “You — particularly you young people, particularly you young healthy people — you’re going to have to pay more. And by the way, if you’re very old, we’re not going to give you all that technology and all those drugs for the last couple of years of your life to keep you maybe going for another couple of months. It’s too expensive . . . so we’re going to let you die’”
Reich goes on:
“I’m going to use the bargaining leverage of the federal government in terms of Medicare, Medicaid — we already have a lot of bargaining leverage — to force drug companies and insurance companies and medical suppliers to reduce their costs. What that means, less innovation and that means less new products and less new drugs on the market which means you are probably not going to live much longer than your parents.”
Whether you support more government in health care or not is up to you. But it is not disputable that those consequences exist. They should be factored into your opinion. Supporters of proposed legislation should acknowledge the effects of their ideas. Instead, they usually run away from them.
Kudos to Robert Reich for the intellectual honesty he displayed in his speech. More, please.
On November 4, California regulators may vote to ban big-screen televisions. The large sets use more energy than they would prefer.
Commissioner Julia Levin claims the ban “will actually save consumers money and help the California economy grow and create new clean, sustainable jobs.”
It is easy to imagine the ban costing tv manufacturing jobs; less so the jobs that would take their place.
Fortunately, the ban isn’t terribly enforceable. Consumers can just drive to Arizona, Nevada, or Oregon to get the kind of tv they want.
A final point on semantics: what does “sustainable” even mean, anyway? It is a meaningless buzz term, right up there with “synergy” and “paradigm.” This decade’s equivalent of “social justice.”
If anything, use of the word “sustainable” signals that a person knows not of what they speak. If you’re unable to defend a proposal on the merits, just use fashionable buzz words that poll well.
Posted in Argumentation, Economics, Mankind's Doom, Philosophy, Regulation of the Day, The New Religion
Tagged big screen tv, big screen tv ban, california, carbon footprint, energy, energy saving, hdtv, Regulation of the Day