Category Archives: Argumentation

Bad Negotiating Tactics

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.



Schumpeter on Why People Are Bad at Arguing

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.

Like, Totally

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.

Responding to Media Matters

Apparently the folks at Media Matters didn’t care for my July 12 article in the Daily Caller debunking the cell phone cancer scare.

The trouble is, I’m not quite sure why. They never say. Jamison Foser’s blog post doesn’t touch a single argument I made in the article. Instead he attacks me personally, as well as CEI. For all I know, he agrees with everything I said. Or maybe he disagrees. I don’t know.

His main point is that corporate funding makes arguments untrustworthy. Since CEI receives some corporate funding, we are therefore suspicious. This is not a rigorous line of thought. Arguments are either right or wrong. The presence or absence of corporate funding has nothing to do with whether an argument is right or wrong.

There is also the matter of Media Matters’ own very generous corporate donors, which Foser does not address.

Media Matters’ fixation on corporate funding is an easy way for them to avoid genuine intellectual engagement. It is a diversion. If you are unable to attack the argument, then attack the person making it.

This ad hominem attack deserves a rebuttal. The Daily Caller was kind enough to run mine this morning. I hope you will take a few minutes to read it.

The State of the Immigration Debate

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!

A Lesson in Cause and Effect

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.

Goldman Sachs and Crony Capitalism

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.