Friday, September 16, 2011

Fallacy Abounds

Lawrence O’Donnell, Ezra Klein, and Bruce Bartlett and were discussing a speech made by John Boehner last night and, while overall the discussion was reasonable enough, they tended to slip into some arguments refuting Boehner which sounded good but which in reality were no more sound than were the statements of Boehner that they were trying to debunk.

For instance O’Donnell argued with Boehner’s statement about the present economy being held back by excessive taxes by saying that he, Boehner, was “ignoring the fact that we have had significantly higher taxes when the economy was doing much better.” That statement is true enough, but it doesn’t refute Boehner. It may very well be that a more robust economy could tolerate the higher taxes, while the current depressed economy could not do so and can not, in fact, even tolerate the present level of taxes. In such a case Boehner’s statement would be true. I’m not suggesting that is the case, and in fact I don’t believe it is, but it seems to me that a better argument than O’Donnell offered is needed to refute it.

Bruce Bartlett then said that in order to show that regulations are holding the economy back right now one would have to show that regulations have increased seriously since 2008 and that they have not done so. This is another “proof” which sounds a lot better than actually it is. It could very well be that a level of regulation that would not harm a robust pre-2008 economy would prove very burdensome to the current depressed economy, in which case that regulation would be holding back the economy now without increasing since 2008. In such a case Boehner would be right and it might be necessary to ease regulation until the economy improves, at which time it could be restored to its pre-2008 level. Here too, I am not only not suggesting that such is the case, I am rather certain it is not, at least not to any significant degree, but Bartlett’s argument is flawed.

When I was working in business “we’ve always done it that way” was never acceptable as a reason for doing anything, and the arguments these guys were using amounted essentially to nothing more than “well, it worked before.” News flash people, this is not 2008. We need better reasons for what we’re doing that that you did it that way before you retired and became talking heads.

It does sort of suggest, though, that conservatives are not the only ones who are capable of engagement in shallow thinking.

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