W-T-F

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.   

6 thoughts on “W-T-F”

  1. Who was the most recent president to impose wage and price controls, again? <a href="http://www.econreview.com/events/wageprice1971b.htm">Some Democrat, no doubt</a>….

    Will's editorial is part of his long-standing war on the post-New Deal expansive interpretation of the Commerce Clause. Perhaps it's best to think of the editorial less as a stand-alone article and more as part 783 of a <a href="http://www.google.com/search?q=george+will+commerce+clause">continuing series</a>

  2. Hey John,
    So I wonder if the dialogical model is one about making clear what responsibilities one has to one's subject in writing.  All writing is monologue, really.  Well, maybe chat boards are counter-examples.  But surely the essay is monologue.  But our interpretive defaults are set on taking these moments of monologue as coming out of extended background exchange.  I'm guessing that failures of monological argument are to be explained in terms of their failures in meeting those background dialogical burdens.

  3. Hey Scott,

    Thanks for being patient with me on this point.  I realized I started out this post with that general claim and never got any further.  I think you're right to say that we would like it that arguments (which are monologues) were actual dialogues–and obeyed their rules of propriety, respected burdens, and so forth.  But that is an ideal scenario rarely realized in the actual universe of arguing.  Even  in actual dialogical arguing there isn't much dialogical arguing.  So I wonder if asserting dialogical burdens as analytically decisive is as foreign to actual realities of the format as anything else.

  4. I  know it is a secondary point but the collapse in 1937 was caused by unknown factors. Yet, most experts blame it on FDR actually trying to reduce recovery efforts. He saw that the economy was recovering and changed some policies concerning spending, taxes and interest rates to start balancing the federal budget.

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