The caricature of the Tea Party type holds a sign and calls every single government action "communist."  Please tell me how this caricature is not on display here:

Today's evidence suggesting sluggish job creation might give pause to a less confident person than Obama. But pauses are not in his repertoire of governance. Instead, yielding to what must be a metabolic urge toward statism, he says the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is yet another reason for yet another explosion of government's control of economic life. The spill supposedly makes it urgent to adopt a large tax increase in the form of cap-and-trade energy legislation, which also is climate legislation, the primary purpose of which is, or once was, to combat global warming, such as it is.

For the uninitiated, "statism" means "any increase in government activity."  That is a charitable interpretation (on my part).  Because the other one would be "communism," which wouldn't make this any different from the average Tea Party screed about health care or guns. 

So let's get this straight. 

  1. An under-regulated and unmonistored private industry, which enjoys by the way subsidies of all sorts (highways, etc.) incentivizing its products, caused what appears to be a calamity affecting the economy and ecology of entire region, if not the world.
  2. One contributing factor to the disaster was lax oversight.
  3. Therefore, this is not an argument for government regulation. 

That's really silly I think.  If we have an argument for effective government regulation, even if it requires "statism" (God is that term dumb), then this is it. 

On the other point in the paragraph, by the way, oil is dirty in the procuring (seeMexico, Gulf of) and dirty in the using (see Warming, Global).

10 thoughts on “Statism”

  1. I wonder if it's possible, like at all, for people to write an article without stuffing it with fallacies.

  2. Hi PD

    Short answer: yes.

    Less short answer: It will certainly be the case that Will would not be able to maintain the army of straw men that occupy his Ivy-league mind.  To that extent, I think, he might not be able to write any columns. 

    As a stylistic challenge, however, I would suggest Will's assistants refuse to research the cute historical stories that open nearly every column.  Mix it up a bit. 

  3. I think what Will is trying to say here is that Obama is using the oil spill to advance climate legislation. I read the rest of the article, and he does not seem to address the cause of the spill or what ought to be done about it. If anything, I would call this a bit of a red herring (or a failure on Will's part to unpack a bounty of hidden premises) because the article is supposedly about job creation.

  4. Hey Derek,

    I thnk this was one of the worst Will columns in recent years.  He's alleging–so I meant to point out at least–that the gulf oil spill is the red herring, the real issue (he alleges) is the jobs business, how systematic regulation makes things (inexplicably to my mind) uncertain.

    There is a clear connection, however, between the need to drill for oil in uncertain and unregulated ways and (1) climate change (never mind that Will denies its reality) and (2) government intervention in the economic system.  The disaster in getting the oil shows us that perhaps we should find a way out of the oil business (which is one long-term goal of the climate legislation) and (2) we should double check when a private business tells us what they're doing is safe.  Both seem not unreasonable increases in communism, statism or what I would call sensible government. 

  5. Isn't it a bit early to assume how Obama will react / use (depending on your bias) the public's frustration over the oil spill?  I mean his speech didn't really make it clear what he intended to do to correct the problem.  Will is clearly pushing a very presumptuous narrative here.
    However, I disagree with Casey's assertion that if Will were correct, that this would still remain a straw man.  It is such because Obama has made no attempt to do what Will is already accusing him of doing.  If Obama actually does do exactly what Will seems to be presuming he is already doing, then this article is no longer a straw man, and in fact holds some authority as an accurate prediction.  That said, I doubt that will be the case.

  6. The straw man, Andrew, is "statism."   But it's not really that.  And, in general, bad arguments are bad arguments, whether their conclusions turn out be true or not. 

  7. Will's argument is of course weak, because he's claiming to make a counter argument against a pro-regulation argument made by the President, when in fact the President, when the President has not yet made such an argument.  The President did address a failure by current agencies, and is appointing new leadership there, but that is simply in an attempt to transform an existing agency into a more effective one culturally, not through greater regulation of the oil industries.  So there I'm sure that we agree that Will is putting words in Obama's mouth, a classic straw man.

    As to whether the "Statism" charge is a straw man, well it might be poisoning the well, or an ad hominem, but I don't think it qualifies as a straw man, as it is not implied (by Will) to be Obama's underlying philosophy, but rather simply an inclination or bias towards centralized control, which is conjecture, but clearly so.

  8. Well, you brought up the straw man–which it is, as Obama does not advocate "statism."  But in any case, it's nice to see you speak so magisterially about these matters.

  9. Will's main argument is that the slow economic recovery (or lack of recovery) is evidence that the state can't solve the countries larger problems (global warming, the economy, health care, etc.). 
    When Will said "another reason for another explosion of government control of economic life", I assumed he meant cap & trade legislation, not necessarily regulation directly related to the oil spill itself (although I don't doubt Will would oppose that too). Your post makes it seem like Will is arguing that regulating issues directly related to Oil spills itself is statism, which, given the context, I think clearly isn't the case. 
    I see in your reply to Derek you address exactly that: "there is a clear connection… between the need to drill for oil in uncertain and unregulated ways and… climate change…" The problem is that it is a loose connection. You seem to be suggesting that oil spills provide support for taxing the carbon emission. However, whether the government should regulate Oil companies that drill in deep water has little to do with whether the government should tax carbon emission. They could both be good ideas, but it would take completely separate arguments to demonstrate that.
    I think Will is suggesting that Obama is using the oil spill as an excuse to push for more government control (statism) over the economy in the form of cap & trade. And Will is arguing that statism, progressivism, or, as you like to call it, "sensible government" is increasing uncertainties, which is harming us economically. 
    Given more of Will's argument, it seems like you might be slightly straw-manning him because his argument isn't about regulating Oil companies, but about regulating the economy as a whole, through cap & trade.
    Side note: in my opinion, Obama's push for cap & trade legislation while addressing issues related to the oil spill might be an appeal to emotion and/or a red herring on his part. 

  10. That's right Tristan.  On a slightly more charitable note (charity to those who never give it), Will is talking about cap-and-trade.  But, in answer to PD's question above (can one write a column w/out fallacies?), Will could have written something more closely to what you have written. 

    Nonetheless, in that case I would say the climate bill is an energy bill.  Oil is plenty regulated already–regulated in the sense of supported by the state–think of what one arm of the state–the military–does to insure regular access to oil.  Oh does private industry enjoy the boring regularity of oil prices and oil access.  This is to say, in other words, there's a lot that's statist, as it were, about oil.  If Will thinks intervening in this market (unstable without state intervention already) then he's refuted himself.

Comments are closed.