Cut a few

Courtesy of Thinkprogress, Bush has diagnosed the problem:

>In other words, we just didn’t talk about philosophy — there’s too many philosophers in Washington — we acted. We got the job done. We cut the taxes on everybody who pays income taxes. We doubled the child tax credit. We reduced the marriage penalty. We cut taxes on small businesses. We cut taxes on capital gains and dividends to promote investment and jobs. And to reward family businesses and farmers for a lifetime of hard work and savings, we put the death tax on the road to extinction. (Applause.)

If he thinks it’s bad now, he should just wait for the December meeting of the American Philosophical Association.

Dumbed down

Even the most bellicose of conservative pundits has begun to face up to stupid ugly reality. Not to worry. They’re not in danger of critical reflection. With such consistency, the hobglobins would have nothing to do. So, Jonah Goldberg:

>The Iraq war was a mistake.

Great. Now let the lesson-learning begin:

>In the dumbed-down debate we’re having, there are only two sides: pro-war and anti-war. This is silly. First, very few folks who favored the Iraq invasion are abstractly pro-war. Second, anti-war types aren’t really pacifists. They favor military intervention when it comes to stopping genocide in Darfur or starvation in Somalia or doing whatever it was that President Bill Clinton did in Haiti. In other words, their objection isn’t to war per se; it’s to wars that advance U.S. interests (or, allegedly, Bush’s or Israel’s or Exxon Mobil’s interests).

The obvious lesson to draw from this–as the rest of this column illlustrates–is that Goldberg bears no small measure of responsibility for the dumb debate we have been forced to have. In the first place, only in the bifurcated minds of pundits have there been two sides–pro-war and anti-war. Second, the objection of the anti-war crowd cannot properly be characterized as against “wars that advance U.S. Interests” or the even more strawmanish “Bush’s or Israel’s or Exxon Mobil’s interests.” Many of those opposed to the Iraq war used Dick Cheney’s Gulf War I arguments or other largely interest-driven objections. The war, whatever you want to call it, has not advanced U.S. interests, as many at the time argued. Pundits like Goldberg challenged their sanity and their patriotism (links later). Goldberg owes his readers an apology.

In lieu of that, perhaps he could just stop writing his column. If anyone wants to run through the rest of this column, feel free.

Do you feel lucky?

Courtesy of Scott Horton, we have the following gem from our Dear Leader:

>I’ve met too many wives and husbands who’ve lost their partner in life, too many children who’ll never see their mom or dad again. I owe it to them and to the families who still have loved ones in harm’s way, to ensure that their sacrifices are not in vain

See the video here. Scott calls this the “Sunk Costs Fallacy” and he refers to the Skeptics Dictionary’s explanation:

>When one makes a hopeless investment, one sometimes reasons: I can’t stop now, otherwise what I’ve invested so far will be lost. This is true, of course, but irrelevant to whether one should continue to invest in the project. Everything one has invested is lost regardless. If there is no hope for success in the future from the investment, then the fact that one has already lost a bundle should lead one to the conclusion that the rational thing to do is to withdraw from the project.

>To continue to invest in a hopeless project is irrational. Such behavior may be a pathetic attempt to delay having to face the consequences of one’s poor judgment. The irrationality is a way to save face, to appear to be knowledgeable, when in fact one is acting like an idiot.”

This is really an interesting variety of non-sequitur in that it seems very much like the gambler’s fallacy–If I only keep rolling I’ll come out even! But, unlike the gambler’s fallacy, it doesn’t allege a specious causal connection between past and future gambling events. As a result, we will add this oft-heard non-sequitur to our categories list. The only question is where to put it.


When North Korea conducted a test of a nuclear device, the rest of the world shuddered. No sane person relishes the idea of nuclear proliferation. The natural question at this point–and at nearly all previous points–should be how to limit the expansion of the nuclear club.

So we were surprised that someone drew the conclusion that Japan ought to consider going nuclear:

>Japan is a true anomaly. All the other Great Powers went nuclear decades ago — even the once-and-no-longer great, such as France; the wannabe great, such as India; and the never-will-be great, such as North Korea. There are nukes in the hands of Pakistan, which overnight could turn into an al-Qaeda state, and North Korea, a country so cosmically deranged that it reports that the “Dear Leader” shot five holes-in-one in his first time playing golf and also wrote six operas. Yet we are plagued by doubts about Japan’s joining this club.

>Japan is not just a model international citizen — dynamic economy, stable democracy, self-effacing foreign policy — it is also the most important and reliable U.S. ally after only Britain. One of the quieter success stories of recent American foreign policy has been the intensification of the U.S.-Japanese alliance. Tokyo has joined with the United States in the development and deployment of missile defenses and aligned itself with the United States on the neuralgic issue of Taiwan, pledging solidarity should there ever be a confrontation.

Krauthammer–who else?–then runs through a serious of short-term reasons for this crazy idea. But the expansion of nuclear power of late hasn’t made anyone safer. And at this point nuclear brinksmanship seems like the very opposite conclusion to draw from recent events in North Korea, and previously India and Pakistan.

Besides, nuclear weapons are not like the keys to the car.

The grand delusion

It’s too much fun watching you guys battle it out. So in the interest of maintaining the high level of discourse on this site, read this and do the same. Here’s a sample quote:

>On college campuses, the old leftist intolerance of unwelcome free speech is back with a fury. A guest spokesman for the Minutemen immigration reform group was shouted down at a recent Columbia University lecture. Earlier, Harvard’s liberal president Lawrence Summers was forced out after timidly questioning academic orthodoxy about the role of women in science and engineering.

And so it goes.

Open season

Anyone care to identify this?

>But since the Bush tax cuts went into effect in 2003, the economy’s growth rate (3.5 percent) has been better than the average for the 1980s (3.1) and 1990s (3.3). Today’s unemployment rate (4.6 percent) is lower than the average for the 1990s (5.8) — lower, in fact, than the average for the past 40 years (6.0).

After you identify and defend your identification, we’ll adjust the categories–and perhaps post your explanation. So have at it.

Another source of income for Wal-Mart: Peace (Prize)

Over at the NYT, John Tierney asks us to consider whether Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank really deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Although Tierney applauds the limited benefits of Yunus’ micro-loans for alleviating poverty, he asks us.

> Has any organization in the world lifted more people out of poverty than Wal-Mart?

Tierney approvingly quotes Michael Strong, who argues that instead of receiving micro-loans to start businesses in their village:

>The best way for third world villagers to tap “the vast pipeline of wealth from the developed world,” he argued in a recent article, is to sell their products to the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart.

If wages are the only metric in evaluating “anti-poverty” program’s contributions to peace, then the argument on the surface seems plausible. Strong and Tierney argue that rural Chinese workers who migrate to the urban areas make more money manufacturing goods for Wal-Mart than those who remain at home (Responsible for 23 billion of China’s exports out of 713 billion in 2005). Wal-Mart they argue is responsible for bringing

>Wal-Mart might well be single-handedly responsible for bringing about 38,000 people out of poverty in China each month, about 460,000 per year. (Strong)

>Most “sweatshop” jobs — even ones paying just $2 per day — provide enough to lift a worker above the poverty level, and often far above it, according to a study of 10 Asian and Latin American countries by Benjamin Powell and David Skarbek. In Honduras, the economists note, the average apparel worker makes $13 a day, while nearly half the population makes less than $2 a day. (Tierney)

>Urban workers earn about 2.5 times as much as rural workers.[8] Even after counting the higher cost of living in urban areas, urban workers make about twice as much. (Strong)

Seems to be a compelling argument. So why wouldn’t the CEO who contribute the greatest amount of economic growth to the world economy receive the Nobel Peace prize?

Perhaps Tierney and Strong are making too much of the claim that Yunus received the prize for his successes in combatting entrenched poverty. This is, of course, how the prize has been reported in the press.

Here is the press release from the Nobel Prize Committee:

>for their efforts to create economic and social development from below. Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.

> Micro-credit has proved to be an important liberating force in societies where women in particular have to struggle against repressive social and economic conditions. Economic growth and political democracy can not achieve their full potential unless the female half of humanity participates on an equal footing with the male.

It seems clear that the committee was considering more than the contribution to wages in awarding the prize. Peace is not a matter of wages alone, but the transformation of the social conditions in which poverty is entrenched. This is not to deny that Wal-Mart also transforms social conditions and even on a much larger scale and with a faster tempo. But the judgement of the committee would seem to rest on the claim that economic and social development from below is an important component of achieving lasting peace.

The question Tierney should be asking is does Wal-Mart increase the likelihood of lasting peace? Or, is it along with a volatile globalized economy a threat to stability, human rights, the enviroment, and long term development–and therefore peace?

But even if we grant Tierney and Strong the assumption that it is likely that economic growth is a direct measure of a contribution to lasting peace, motivation is surely relevant in awarding these prizes. For Tierney and Strong effects seem to be all that matter. It is not enough for an organization to lift people out of poverty, it must presumably also be motivated by that goal to deserve the Peace Prize. A quick reading of Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals would explain why.

Sometimes appealing to the people isn’t fallacious

For once in his life, Jonah Goldberg is confused. He doesn’t see how sometimes you can be for something, and sometimes against something like that thing. So it’s inconstent, he charges, that Democrats favored multilateralism on Iraq and criticized Bush for unilateralism, but on North Korea, they seem to favor the opposite. Never mind that Bush isn’t consistent (and the justification of that inconsistency is Goldberg’s point). Somewhere along the way to making that claim he makes the following attempt to identify the ad populum fallacy (or the appeal to the people):

>Initially, Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) chief complaint against the Iraq war was that President Bush didn’t build a giant multinational coalition like his dad did, as if the argument for war depended on whether Belize and Burkina Faso agreed with us.

>If it was right to topple Saddam Hussein, it was right even if no one else agreed. And if it was wrong, then it was wrong even if the world was on our side. Lynch mobs aren’t right because they have numbers on their side, and men who stand up to them aren’t wrong because they stand alone.

Goldberg isn’t guilty of the fallacy–he just falsely accuses someone else of it. First, Kerry’s complaint was not with the justification for war (as Goldberg wrongly alleges) but with the means of going about it. For Kerry to be guilty of the ad populum fallacy here, he would have to say the truth of the charges (or the cogency of the justification) relied on the collective assent of the “mob.”

Second, one central tenet of just war theory is “reasonable probability of success.” Even though I can’t remember anyone arguing this, our go-it-nearly-alone strategy (as well as the sheer incompetence of our leadership) weakened the justification for going to war. So it’s just wrong to say that “it’s right to topple Saddam even if no one agreed.” It’s right to try to topple Saddam when you can topple Saddam (and besides–what was the war all about anyway? Toppling Saddam wasn’t the only justification or goal of the war, or so I seem to remember. . . ) with reasonable probability of not making things worse. Going it alone increased the chances of making things worse than Saddam. And to that extent, the collective assent of the mob matters.

Shorts: Shifting the Burden of Argument and Ad Hominem

Blitzer: Well you don’t have any evidence though, right?

Rep. McHenry: Well look at the fact points…four weeks out from a national election…

Blitzer: Yes or no: do you have any evidence? Do you have any evidence Congressman?

Rep. McHenry: Do you have any evidence that says they weren’t involved?

Blitzer: I’m just asking if you’re just throwing out an accusation or if you have any hard evidence.

Rep. McHenry: No, it’s a question Wolf. The question remains, were they involved? And if they were not involved they need to say clearly, and it’s a question, it’s not an accusation.

Blitzer: Well, they are denying that they had anything to do with this. source

Sort of like an Appeal to Ignorance. Maybe better described as an illegitimate shift of the burden of argument.

I know the speaker didn’t go over a bridge and leave a young person in the water, and then have a press conference the next day,” said Shays, R-4th District, referring to the 1969 incident in which the Massachusetts Democrat drove a car that plunged into the water and a young campaign worker died.

Dennis Hastert didn’t kill anybody,” he added. source

Nice little ad hominem. Maybe even a form of the tu quoque?

Question Complex

So blatant an attempt at sneakiness is the complex question that none but the cleverest by half use it. That didn’t stop a very smirky Chris Wallace from throwing one at Clinton. In his infamous interview he asked the former President:

>Why didn’t you do more to put bin Laden and Al Qaida out of business when you were president?

As it has been pointed out by many on the internets, that’s a question of the “how long have you been beating your wife?”, or complex variety. There really isn’t anyway for Clinton to answer it without submitting to one of the question’s presuppositions. The question assumes an affirmative answer to the following implicit assertion:

1. Clinton didn’t do all he could have to stop Al Qaeda.

in order to ask the following:

2. What explains this failure?

But these are two separate issues. What does Wallace say? In Sunday’s New York Times Mag, he says:

>I think it was a straight news question, and I think it just touched a very raw nerve. The business I am in is asking probing questions and trying to get interesting answers. I think I succeeded admirably in my job.

It’s not a straight news question. It’s not a straight question. He should have asked the following two questions:

1. Do you think you did everything in your power to stop Al Qaeda?

2. If you don’t feel you did, what explains it?

Those are straight questions. Whether they’re straight news questions might be another matter.