Slip Slidin’ to 20 Billion

Crooks and Liars link to a Senate committee discussion featuring Al Franken, Bernie Sanders, and Rand Paul on funding the Older Americans Act–a program that provides services to the elderly to allow them to remain in their homes and be healthy.

PAUL: I appreciate the great and I think very collegial discussion, and we do have different opinions. Some of us believe more in the ability of government to cure problems and some of us believe more in the ability of private charity to cure these problems. I guess what I still find curious though is that if we are saving money with the two billion dollars we spend, perhaps we should give you 20 billion. Is there a limit? Where would we get to, how much money should we give you to save money? So if we spend federal money to save money where is the limit? I think we could reach a point of absurdity. Thank you.

FRANKEN: I think you just did.

This is probably not a slippery slope argument, though it has some similarities to one. In fact, it's hard to figure out what Paul's point is.

P1) If spending x produces savings, then spending 10x would save 10x as much.

P2) This will reach absurdity.

C) Therefore, we shouldn't spend x.

This is not a good argument, but primarily because premise 1 seems false. Most preventative expenditures are not infinitely scalable (how much preventative maintenance should you do on your car, as Crooks and Liars notes), and so the absurdity never gets generated.

I think, in fact, there is a sort of equivocation at the root of Paul's rhetoric.Rand Paul is obtusely refusing to admit that when you spend money in order to reduce future expenditures that you would otherwise be forced to incur we can consider these "savings." He seems to be relying on a narrow notion that would define savings and spending as contradictory concepts. Thus, spending cannot be savings and vice versa. This latter sense of savings and spending is certainly operative in our language ("How can spending money be saving money?"). But, Franken reasonably expects a bit more sophistication than Rand Paul is able to muster. Rand's problem, I think, is that he needs to deny that those savings will be realized, but is unable to do so, and so falls back and some very silly twaddle.



One thought on “Slip Slidin’ to 20 Billion”

  1. "This is not a good argument" is correct, I think.  I think you've got something between the SS of absurd consequences and the fallacy of composition–some kind of combination of the two producing an awesome ignoratio elenchi.  So:

    if a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, then a 5lb bag will make it go down all the better!  But that's crazy, 5lbs of sugar is too much!  Stupid Mary Bobbins.

    Now of course someone who rejects the idea that a little maintenance at low cost will save lots on repairs in the future must be a car mechanic's dream.

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