Category Archives: non causa pro causa


Some maintain that arguments are dialogues and such therefore be evaluated as such.  I have my doubts about this view, because so many of the arguments I encounter seem to be monologues, or at least the critical parts of them don't have anything to do with dialoguing with someone who disagrees with you (assuming the back-and-forth exchange is what is meant by "dialogue").  They seem–the critical parts–to be old-fashioned inferences of the inductive variety, or variations thereof.

Here's an example.  Today George Will argues ("superbly" according to some twitterers) that collective action to address an economic crisis is bad.  His argument, such as it is, goes something like this:

1.  During the depression, FDR's NRA attempted  price-fixing as a tool of economic recovery;

2.  One of those charged with overseeing this program admired Mussolini;

3.  Those who attempted to sell goods or services for less than the fixed price were punished  (just like in Cold War Poland);

4.  Today, as in the Great Depression, the government is trying to aid recovery:

Today, as 76 years ago, economic recovery is much on the mind of the government, which is busy as a beaver — sending another $26 billion to public employees, proposing an additional $50 billion for "infrastructure" — as it orchestrates Recovery Summer to an appropriate climax. But at least today's government is agnostic about the proper price for cleaning a suit.  

5.  But, in 1937 the Great Depression got worse:

In 1937, FDR asked in his second inaugural address for "unimagined power" to enforce "proper subordination" of private interests to public authority. The biggest industrial collapse in American history occurred eight years after the stock market crash of 1929, and nearly five years into the New Deal, in . . . 1937.

6.  Therefore:

The NRA lives on, sort of, in this Milton Friedman observation: Pick at random any three letters from the alphabet, put them in any order, and you will have an acronym designating a federal agency we can do without.

That's the best I can do with this argument.  In the first place, Will hasn't done anything to show that price-fixing (or the New Deal) caused the industrial collapse of 1937.  Second, there seems to be no analogy between stimulus spending on teachers, firefighters and police (among others) and arguably misguided price-fixing in the Thirties.  

Now had this been some kind of back and forth of a dialogue, WIll might have anticipated that.  But he didn't.   

Mysterious ways

As I head off to vacation, let us marvel at Newt Ginrich marvelling at God's mysterious ways (courtesy of Media Matters):

newtgingrich As callista and i watched what dc weather says will be 12 to 22 inches of snow i wondered if God was sending a message about copenhagen

newtgingrich After the expanding revelations of dishonesty in climategate having a massive snow storm as obama promises our money to the world is ironic

newtgingrich There is something jimmy carter like about weather service upgrading frrom winter storm to blizzard as global warming conference wants US $ 

But he was not alone.  There was disagreement about the meaning of the snow storm.  Here is Erick Erickson at the not-worth-evaluating Red State blog:

Over at Talking Points Memo, Brian Beutler chronicles the follies of the Democrats and health care.

Joe Lieberman has gone back to Connecticut in advance of the blizzard. This leaves the Democrats needing Republican votes to get back to health care.

At the end of the article, Brian writes, “[D]on’t be surprised to hear a new Republican talking point: Even Mother Nature hates health care reform.”

I hate to correct him, but actually the talking point is that God hates the Democrats’ health care deform. With funding death panels and abortions, of course the Almighty would send a snow storm or, in Brian’s words, a snowpocalypse to shut down Washington.

Oh, and kudos to Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council for organizing the “pray-in.” Looks to be working.

I am tempted to think the second of these is a joke, but the "death panels" remark seems to be serious. 


In a meritocracy, people earn their way upwards.  So foundational is the notion of merit to a meritocracy, that for some, such as myself for instance, it has a broader application.  In a meritocracy democracy, such as ours would like to be, people advance their position on the strength of their arguments.  If your argument has no merit because it rests on made up facts–or lies as some call them–you ought to realize it does not deserve to be made not to mention win.  Well, would that Jonah Goldberg thought this way,  He writes:

I have no idea whatsoever if there's merit to this, and if there is how much merit, but lots of email like this:

When are people going to start talking about the REAL reason the markets are down – Obama up in polls. If I was McCain, I'd start telling people, "If you want to lose more money, vote Obama."

A person such as Goldberg could perhaps be bothered to check to see whether there is any merit to his obviously contentious, to say the least, claim.  His readers could be forgiven, after all, they read him.  

Thanks to Glenn Greenwald for the tip.

Who cares

If we still wonder why our children isn't learning, we might also ask some why well-educated and rich adults can't seem to learn either.  On that point, once again, George Will has found the root cause of educational success in the American inner city.  What might it be?  If you guessed, eliminate the teachers unions, you'd be right:

CRJHS can have its work program, its entirely college preparatory courses ("the old, dead white man's curriculum," says an English teacher cheerfully), its zero tolerance of disorder (from gang symbols down to chewing gum), its enforcement of decorum (couples dancing suggestively are told to "leave some space there for the Holy Spirit") and its requirement that every family pay something, if only as little as $25 a month. It can have all this because it is not shackled by bureaucracy or unions, as public schools are. 

Cristo Rey can have all of this because it is a private, Catholic, school that can pick and choose its students.  The ones not chosen end up somewhere else.  Where do they go?  Who will educate them?  I think it's clear at this point that if you asked George Will he'd say: who cares.

Queerly Beloved

A reader (hurray for readers) wondered if I might have something to say about this column on same-sex marriage.  I might.  I'd say the author hasn't even really tried.  Luckily, however, he italicizes his points so even I can see where to look.  His points are three in number.  And three is the number of his points, not four, not two.  He writes:

It is not the business of judges to make public policy.

Reasonable men and women can disagree on whether same-sex unions should be granted legal recognition, or whether such recognition should rise to the level of marriage. The place to work out those disagreements is the democratic arena, not the courtroom.

Well, the court, which decides matters such as these, is an institution in our democracy–a fundamental one, some might not implausibly suggest.  Its decisions necessarily have to do with public policy.  This argument–judicial activism!–really ought to be retired: they're little question-begging argumentative stand-ins.  Make a legal argument against the legal argument.  

Point number two:

The radical transformation of marriage won't end with same-sex weddings.

Another well-worn anti gay marriage argument.  Where will it end?  Well, the slope begins with actual marriage, so one can only conclude that the existence of marriage between a "straight" couple will lead to all sorts of weird marriages.  Besides, the problem with this particular variation of the slippery slope argument, it tacitly admits there's nothing wrong with gay marriage–the problem is rather with all of the other crazy marriages that will follow in its wake.  Of course, if there's a problem with those marriages, you can just make arguments against them for what they are (marriage between three), rather than something else they're not (marriage between two consenting adults).

Point number three:

Society has a vested interest in promoting only traditional marriage.

Which is the argument of the gay marriage advocates–they want a traditional marriage too–its legitimacy and legal benefits.  Like the one Britney had–the first one or the second, take your pick.  What's really silly about this claim is that it supposes gay marriage would be some kind of competitor or threat for "traditional" marriage.  This doesn't seem to be the case at all.  If history is any guide, gay couples have existed (with diminished or nonexistent legal status of course) for a very long time.  Their existence hasn't done much to undermine traditional marriage.  Not as much as, say, divorce, infidelity, sports, weight loss or gain, age, youth, or failure to put the toilet seat down. 

The Green Hornet

The only thing that makes George Will madder (and more incoherent) than "global warming" are teachers' unions.  Just as teachers' unions have singularly (without any interference from any other causal factor) been able to destroy public education and all that's good in America, environmentalists aim to destroy the economy for their Marxist political agenda.  I wish I were kidding:

What Friedrich Hayek called the "fatal conceit" — the idea that government can know the future's possibilities and can and should control the future's unfolding — is the left's agenda. The left exists to enlarge the state's supervision of life, narrowing individual choices in the name of collective goods. Hence the left's hostility to markets. And to automobiles — people going wherever they want whenever they want.

Today's "green left" is the old "red left" revised. Marx, a short-term pessimist but a long-term optimist, prophesied deepening class conflict but thought that history's violent dialectic would culminate in a revolution that would usher in material abundance and such spontaneous cooperation that the state would wither away.

The green left preaches pessimism: Ineluctable scarcities (of energy, food, animal habitat, humans' living space) will require a perpetual regime of comprehensive rationing. The green left understands that the direct route to government control of almost everything is to stigmatize, as a planetary menace, something involved in almost everything — carbon.

He gets to this astoundingly moronic conclusion (that global warming is a myth perpetrated by "the left") by two main arguments.  First, he uncritically accepts of the word of a poorly qualified climate change deniers and climate change danger skeptics.  This time it's not Michael Crichton, science fiction author, but Nigel Lawson (that's Nigella's father), former British Cabinet member.  I can't determine what his specific expertise is here.  But it's obvious that he doesn't deny the fact of global warming–something which Will seems to do here.  He merely denies that it's a bad thing.  He writes (Will's quote):

"Over the past two-and-a-half-million years, a period during which the planet's climate fluctuated substantially, remarkably few of the earth's millions of plant and animal species became extinct. This applies not least, incidentally, to polar bears, which have been around for millennia, during which there is ample evidence that polar temperatures have varied considerably."

According to him at least, the climate is changing.  To be fair, of course, he'll probably deny that the cause is the presence of unabsorbed carbon in the atmosphere.  But that's a different claim from the one he's making above.  Scientists would agree of course that the earth's temperature has changed considerably over the years.  But not so drastically.  And not, at least not recently, because of carbon in the atmosphere. 

Will's second argument is inconsistent with this first one.  He writes

Want to build a power plant in Arizona? A building in Florida? Do you want to drive an SUV? Or leave your cellphone charger plugged in overnight? Some judge might construe federal policy as proscribing these activities. Kempthorne says such uses of the act, unintended by those who wrote it in 1973, would be "wholly inappropriate." But in 1973, climate Cassandras were saying that "the world's climatologists are agreed" that we must "prepare for the next ice age" (Science Digest, February 1973).

This one holds that the climate is probably not changing, or that climatologists should not be believed, because in the 70s there was concern (in the popular media) about "a new ice age."  In other words, Will suggests there is some kind of inconsistency in the arguments of current climatologists because an article or two (and he always cites specific articles on this point–good for him!) claimed the opposite of what they now claim.  This, of course, hardly makes them inconsistent.  Besides, reports from the 70s popular media ought not be held up against the work of actual scientists.  You might hold it up against the current disaster-media complex, but that would be something else entirely.

In one final bit of craziness, he concludes the above paragraph with the following warning:

And no authors of the Constitution or the 14th Amendment intended to create a "fundamental" right to abortion, but there it is.

Lest you think we won't slide down the slippery slope to less autonomy of personal choices, just look at what happened with Roe v. Wade.   

In Their Genes

Don't you love genetic determinism?  Michael Medved does.  He writes:

The idea of a distinctive, unifying, risk-taking American DNA might also help to explain our most persistent and painful racial divide – between the progeny of every immigrant nationality that chose to come here, and the one significant group that exercised no choice in making their journey to the U.S. Nothing in the horrific ordeal of African slaves, seized from their homes against their will, reflected a genetic predisposition to risk-taking, or any sort of self-selection based on personality traits. Among contemporary African-Americans, however, this very different historical background exerts a less decisive influence, because of vast waves of post-slavery black immigration. Some three million black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean arrived since 1980 alone and in big cities like New York, Boston and Miami close to half of the African-American population consists of immigrants, their children or grandchildren. The entrepreneurial energy of these newcomer communities indicates that their members display the same adventurous instincts associated with American DNA.

No comment necessary.

*h/t Crooks and Liars.

Diagnosis: Evil

To most people, elections are complicated.  Not so to some pundits.  Enter Gerson:

By the summer of 2007, the Republican presidential candidate most closely identified with the war, John McCain, was in serious trouble. Moderates and independents no longer seemed impressed by the fierce, lonely advocate of what many called "escalation." Political observers argued that McCain's money troubles and staff resignations and firings — he went from 120 campaign workers to 50 — were "another nail in Mr. McCain's campaign coffin," showing that "the wheels came off," and leading to "a death spiral that is almost never survived."

If cliches could kill, McCain would have been embalmed and buried.

Yet the Republican candidate most closely identified with the war and the surge performs well in head-to-head polls against the Democrats. The revival of McCain's campaign was possible for one reason: the revival of American fortunes in Iraq. Most categories of violence in Iraq are now down by more than 60 percent, and sectarian attacks in Baghdad have fallen by 90 percent. Sunni tribal leaders are conducting the first large-scale revolt of Arabs against al-Qaeda thuggery — which includes, we learned last week, strapping explosives to a mentally disabled woman and setting off a blast in a market.

McCain seems well suited to deal with this kind of evil — precisely because he would diagnose it as evil.

Every Republican save Ron Paul embraced the most energetic and belligerent of Bush's policies.  How McCain alone is helped by this seems a bit of a mystery.  Besides, someone might even say that the surge hasn't worked (because it has exhausted its own ability to continue without achieving any of its stated goals), but I guess that person would, as Gerson earlier says, would "embrace retreat at any cost."  But Gerson's claim about McCain's surging success is just run of the mill causal fallacy stuff–a little post hoc ergo propter hoc or perhaps some oversimplified cause.  The real travesty is the remark after the dash.  

There is another theologian in this race.  If diagnosing something as evil constitutes a qualification, then why isn't Gerson supporting Mike Huckabee?

Suppressed Will

Today George Will goes after the Democratic congress for failing to avoid his misleading sarcasm.  The first charge, earmarks:

Hellbent on driving its approval rating into single digits, Congress adjourned after passing an omnibus spending bill larded with at least 8,993 earmarks costing at least $7.4 billion — the precise number and amount will be unclear until implications of some obscure provisions are deciphered. The gusher of earmarks was a triumph of bipartisanship, which often is a synonym for kleptocracy.

That first clause has a kind of causal ring to it I think, as if the cause of The Congress' low approval ratings were earmarks, lots of them.  On that presumption, the approval ratings of Congress ought to be higher than before.  Earmarks, under the Democrats, are down:

Democrats in Congress with the encouragement of President Bush vowed this year to seek a 50% reduction in federal budget "earmarks" — projects and programs inserted into spending bills by members of Congress to benefit their states or districts.

As it turns out, they didn't quite get there. How far they got depends on whose accounting method is used.

Democrats say they cut earmarks by 43%, to $9.2 billion, but they don't count water and military construction projects in their calculations. Those are mostly merit-based and less controversial than others.

Watchdog groups such as Taxpayers for Common Sense say the reduction is closer to 25%, once all earmarks are counted. They count 11,144, for $15.3 billion.

The White House puts the reduction at a meager 13%. Its Office of Management and Budget said Tuesday that the final spending bill, which was passed by the House on Monday and won Senate approval Tuesday night, would bring the total spent on earmarks to $16.4 billion. That's 87% of the 2005 peak, according to OMB's figures.

And the rest of this mendacious (that's a word Will would use) piece continues along the same lines: (a) misrepresent (by leaving out crucial facts) some Democratic achievement, (b) make sarcastic remark about how it either (i) fails some kind of consistency test or (ii) fails some kind of test of basic rationality.

Someone said–maybe Digby–that we continue to believe that our political discourse has to be this way, as if this were the logical consequence of our democratic system.  I fail to see how it is the case that we need people like Will, who in addition to the habitual abuse of logic, simply misrepresent facts.  Can't the Post put a fact-checker between his column and print?  The same for everyone.  Opinion pieces, as we all know here, are composed of factual assertions.  Those have to be correct in order for the opinions to be worth reading.  It would be extra special if they had a logic checker–one thing at a time.

One final, unrelated point.  With so many silly posts on this website, would anyone mind telling me what their favorite one of the past year was?  Jon Swift seems to be having a kind of contest.


Robert Samuelson, a kind of Captain Bringdown of economics columnists, argues that we cannot have an honest debate about health care so long as it is about expanding coverage. He writes:

>The politics of health care rests on a mass illusion:

I know what you’re thinking. The illusion is that way too much of the money Americans spend on “health care” pays for needless bureaucracy, so that’s what we need to cut, right?


He continues:

>Most Americans think that someone else pays for their care. Workers with employer-provided insurance believe that their companies pay. Retirees and the poor think that the government, through Medicare (retirees) and Medicaid (the poor), pays. No one has an interest in controlling spending, because everyone believes that it burdens someone else. Naturally, the health-industrial complex — doctors, hospitals, drug companies — has no interest. Higher health spending raises their incomes and profits.

The problem is that people need health coverage. Perhaps they should need it less.

In all seriousness, while serious discussions of cost are always appropriate (I could make a living making that argument: here’s the formula: none of the candidates seriously want to address issue x, which is serious because of y, therefore z), Samuelson has to be aware of the rather obvious and well documented problem of how health insurance bureaucracy consumes a giant share of health care spending. Can’t we cut that first?