Argumentum ad argumenti longinquitatem

Time is short, folks. We don’t have all day to sit around and listen to arguments and puzzle through scholastic distinctions. Perhaps for this reason, some genius has come up with a new form of refutation:

“your argument is too long; mine is better because it’s shorter”

Here’s a recent version:


The length of such bills has been an argument against health care reform since 1993. We talked about this argument (in 2009) here.

I think it’s obvious (is it not?) that the length of our arguings have no direct relation to their quality. It’s not even a pragmatic indicator. Perhaps it even goes the other way. The longer an argument, the more likely it’ll be better (or address your objections!).

Anyhoo. What to call it? Sticking the with the Latinism popular among fallacy theorists: argumentum ad argumenti longinquitatem (argument against the length of an argument). Even the name of the fallacy is long. Get it?

13 thoughts on “Argumentum ad argumenti longinquitatem”

  1. Hi John,
    I think the long-short comparison line is a form of ad populum, which runs that the more complicated something gets, the less likely that one could understand it without effort. But solutions should be easy, reasoning should be obvious. So a short argument, a simple list of regulations, is preferable and more likely to be right.
    In this regard, the observation that another’s view is ‘complicated’ is a kind of criticism, one that implicates that the other has lost sight of the easier and clearer view. But, of course, this makes one’s defaults antithetical to nuance. (BTW: just ask John Kerry or Al Gore about how well nuance goes over with a voting populace.)

  2. Hey Scott,

    Good point about the Occam’s razor feature here. There’s a question, for instance if you consider the US Constitution, whether a simple set of rules is really a simple set of rules.

  3. I must admit that I have encountered subtle versions of this quasi-fallacy, and every time I did, I got angry. Sometimes that’s the point; if you expend a significant amount of effort meticulously crafting a rebuttal/argument in good faith only to be met with a variant of “Brevity is the soul of wit” in response, often they are trying to frustrate you to satisfy a trolling impulse while avoiding the hard work of rebutting the rebuttal/argument you laid out.

    It’s difficult not to draw one or more of the following conclusions in no particular order or likelihood: that person is trying to sound clever by quoting something vaguely famous and sophisticated-sounding; they are trolling, as mentioned; they are lazy and cannot muster the will to do the hard work of properly responding; they are busy and cannot spend the time to properly respond; they are insufficiently intelligent or insufficiently educated or both and are actually incapable of responding properly; I have been perceived as a troll, or I have somehow laid out such a sloppy or fallacy-ridden argument myself that it does not warrant a good-faith response; I am unwittingly beta-testing a debate AI and have triggered its default tl;dr response; I am facing a between-the-lines ad hominem attack—if brevity is the soul of wit, and my argument is not brief, then I must lack wit, and as wit and intelligence are popularly conflated so as to be considered synonymous, then that means I lack intelligence, and we all know how we can just dismiss the arguments of the unintelligent now, don’t we?

    I’ll respond separately as time permits with a rebuttal to your post. I will argue that your observation is correct that an argument’s soundness does not deteriorate with increasing length, but that that observation is badly misapplied in this particular instance to the health care debate and law and government more broadly.

    I don’t always post rebuttals to this blog, but when I do, I prefer to post long ones. None of those times were they met with derision due to their length. For that, I express my gratitude.

  4. As I mentioned in my previous comment, you have badly misapplied your observation of what I’ll just call for the moment the “too-long” fallacy to Sean Spicer’s comment and similar critiques.

    I don’t read proposed legislation, let alone what’s already on the books. I’m pretty certain, however, that laws are not arguments: they are commandments from the high priests of the managerial state. They tell us what to do and what not to do and the bad things that will happen to us if we fail to or refuse to obey—hint: armed agents of the state will force obedience and punish disobedience. Someone who points out the absurd length of some of these legal behemoths as a check mark in the con column when assessing them, therefore, is immune to the risk of committing the too-long fallacy, because he is not critiquing arguments, he is critiquing commandments.

    I am genuinely surprised that this is not obvious to you, especially given your experience in teaching courses in logic and critical thinking.

    You also link to an older post of yours from 2009 in the run-up to 0bamacare. I will attempt to rebut it point-by-point as I think it is open to serious objections. (I tried posting a much longer comment and got an error message, but I don’t know if it was because of its length. If this posts succeeds, I’ll post the remaining content in smaller chunks.)

  5. “There seem to me to be a number of good arguments for a health care system not unlike one that works.”

    In this first sentence, you set yourself up as someone who merely wishes to speak an obvious truth, though it smacks at least slightly of beauty-pageant politics. “There seem to me to be a number of good arguments [for why we should seek world peace].” Of course there are. They are quite prevalent but ultimately shallow and pointless. There is no dearth either of arguments for a health care system “that works”.

    One thing to point out, however, is the batch of assumptions baked in the phrase, “health care system”, that would be easy to gloss over. The word, “system”, in the context of policy means something centrally planned or dictated in a top-down fashion, even if not to every minute detail, and history has shown the folly of centrally planned systems, the shining beacon of collectivism that is Venezuela excepted, of course.

    “Ours it not one that works at its primary job–delivering health care.”

    It is true we have a health care system in the sense I described above as evidenced by however many thousands upon thousands of pages of health-care legislation and regulations that were already on the books before 0bamacare’s passage. To the extent that our healthcare system is one that does not work, I would attribute that in large part, if not mostly, to how complicated the United States code is that governs it. It’s insane, therefore, to think that this time for sure we’ll add thousands more pages via a Hillarycare, 0bamacare, Ryancare, etc. to cure the system to make it one that works.

    Don’t like HMO’s like I don’t? Artifact of the state. Don’t like that health insurance (which isn’t insurance in the true sense of the word) seems to be essentially tied to employment? Artifact of the state: employer-provided health coverage is treated preferentially by the tax code, and it originated from another it-must-be-a-nail-because-we-have-a-legislative-sledge-hammer approach to government problem-solving: wage and price controls. Want “single-payer”, which is really just socialist medicine? Welcome to Highlander HMO: There Can Be Only One, and it will be run by the state and its minions who think they know better what kind of health care you should have than you do. If you don’t like it, tough shit for you.

    Only if we assume that we must have a system in the sense I described would it make sense to talk of it having a purpose, or “primary job”. That you do exactly that here means, again, that you favor a centrally planned system or at least one in which the state is the prime mover and shaker calling all of the big shots on how our aggregate health-care resources are distributed and therefore deciding what its “primary job” is. As might be apparent, I emphatically reject that assumption.

    “It seems rather its primary job is restricting it and rationing it on the basis of employment, wealth, or oddly, extreme (and undesirable) poverty. That leaves people in a bind, of sorts.”

    One of the fundamental truths recognized by economics can be put this way: humans have unlimited wants in an environment of scarce resources to satisfy them. To say that the current state-dominated system restricts health care resources is to attribute to the system a fact of reality that would exist regardless of what system (or no system) were in place. In other words, it would be nonsense to claim that if we only had The Right System, health care wouldn’t be restricted; since scarcity cannot be avoided, health care will always be “restricted” in that sense.

    If your claim is that the engine of health care would run at 800 health power (hp) instead of the 459 hp at which it runs currently, then maybe that word is apt. As I argued earlier, however, adding even more legislative build-up to the health care engine will likely reduce its hp even further given the many miles between where we are and where we could be that has resulted from all of the legislative build-up accumulated thus far. What we really need is an oil change of policy. Better yet, we must restore our liberty to get off the dilapidated city bus that that health care engine is struggling to drive so we as individuals can decide for ourselves how much and what kind of healthcare we want.

    Your use of the word, “rationing,” is especially hazardous, if not outright deceptive. Rationing necessarily means there is a person, group, committee, bureau, etc. that is making the decisions, a third party in charge of how health care resources in general get allocated, often with those on the receiving end sacrificing to make do with less. Rationing means an intervention and disruption in the default distribution that would result in the absence of such directed allocation and artificial restriction by entities not directly involved in the transactions. It is deceptive, or at least sloppy, to use the word “rationing” to apply to healthcare resources that go to those who can pay, for example, as that is the default method by which most resources are secured and consumed in the absence of real rationing.

    Distribution is a superset of rationing. The “rationing” circle in the Venn diagram, in other words, lies wholly within the larger “distribution” circle. All rationing is distribution, but not all distribution is rationing. Limited resources are going to be distributed somehow, but to call all possible distributions “rationing” muddies an important distinction between the directed interventions of rationing by third parties and any default patterns of distribution in the absence of those interventions.

    The subtle play here may be to expand the definition of rationing, tacitly asserting its synonymy with mere distribution in order to bypass people’s natural and justified aversion to it; convince people that rationing thus cannot be avoided, that it will happen one way or another, since effectively all distribution is rationing; and further point out the slap-dash nature of the current system of distribution by lamenting that such circumstances as poverty and job status are arbitrarily relevant factors (which are, again, artifacts of legislation—poverty triggers Medicaid, full-time employment triggers tax-favored health coverage, etc.).

    The point is to anesthetize people to the idea of actual third-party rationing. (Private health plan companies, by the way, are not third parties; the moment one pays for or is expected to pay for a policy holder’s health care, they become a direct party to the transaction.) It’s not much of a leap, then, to convince them to forfeit their liberty and let an actual third party, like some huge, unelected bureaucracy of the state, do the rationing. “This time we have The Right System with The Right People in charge who will run it. Just give us that Ring of Power so we can build you single-rail transportation—Monorail! Monorail!—to replace that crappy bus you may have forgotten we forced you to ride!”

    It all comes down to the fact that there is a current distribution of healthcare resources, as skewed as it is by state intervention. You want to change that distribution pattern with even more state intervention. You therefore want to redistribute healthcare resources. If you are a redistributionist, you are a socialist. Socialism, though, will bring you a health care system very much “unlike one that works”. Oh wait, I almost forgot about Venezuela. I hear their socialist neurosurgeons are to die for.

  6. *[Comment the Third; the Second (which is unlabeled this way) is stuck in moderation and may appear after this one if this one goes through immediately. (Maybe “sh!t” is a sh!tty word.)]*

    “If they’re extremely wealthy (against all misfortune), it doesn’t matter; if they’re extremely poor or above the age of 65, they’re covered (partially); If they get a job that pays enough, they go off medicaid, and so become poor in a different way again;”

    That bondage that people are left in, again, is mostly due to the accumulated artifacts of the managerial state as I argued above, and the examples you cite, with the exception of wealth, illustrate that point.

    If wealth in one’s possession means anything, it means that its possessor can withstand resource shocks better than those without it; that is an intrinsic property, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. If you think there is, then we have a fundamental value disagreement beyond the scope of your post and this rebuttal. To the extent that the critique is about wealth’s distribution such that you seek to impose your own model of distribution, well, I already pointed out what that makes you and where that has historically led….except for that land of milk and honey, Venezuela.

    Here’s one idea for the poor sap who gets a job that pays enough for him to be booted from Medicaid: reduce his taxes! Taxes are a direct hit to his bottom line, so maybe if for-profit government didn’t steal his wealth as he earns it, however meager it may be, he’d have more to spend on medical services he may need.

    “if they aren’t rich and old, they will still live with severely restrictive costs;”

    Either those restrictive costs are the nature of the health care beast, or they are not. If they are, then as I argued in detail earlier, it is because of scarcity inherent to most goods as a consequence of reality itself which cannot be merely regulated, legislated, or bureaucratized away; it becomes, again, a counterproductive resource-redistribution and rationing game—with heavy deadweight losses—which I’ve already mentioned.

    If they are not the nature of the beast at all, or are only partially so whose possibility I hypothesized through the engine metaphor, then the important question becomes why healthcare is more expensive than it would otherwise be. This question is often neglected in favor of examination of healthcare spending, which is not the same.

    So what might be causing health care’s restrictive prices, if indeed they are artificially high? What characteristics of the current system not intrinsic to medicine could be simply eliminated to decrease the inflated expense borne by consumers? The answers do not include such socialist boilerplate as, “just get rid of for-profit health plans so that those profits could be used to pay for more healthcare for the people!”; “get rid of for-profit hospitals [for the same reason]!”; “get rid of for-profit doctors…!” and so on. Venezuela notwithstanding, it doesn’t work that way. It will not produce better health outcomes, even if there is a leveling effect. Earthquakes have a leveling effect.

    Here’s one huge but simple idea that just might reduce costs: allow doctors, hospitals, and health plan companies to set the terms by which they will provide or pay for medical services such that they can preempt the jackpot justice of malpractice litigation. In other words, restore freedom of contract. Here’s another: simplify and unburden the legal and regulatory environment which is currently choking the entire industry. These just might have something to do with how expensive medicine currently is.

    “for everyone else, the wheel of fortune (employment) turns round and round: don’t even think about starting your own business (you’ll lose your benefits!),”

    I’ll address both of these below. In short, employment is not a serendipitous spin of the wheel, but I agree that there are plenty of barriers to entry for new businesses of which loss of employer-provided health benefits is one.

  7. *[Comment the Fourth; the Second (which is unlabeled this way) and Third are stuck in moderation and may appear after this one if this one goes through immediately. (Maybe “[feces]” is a [feces]ty word.)]*

    “getting fired [or not getting hired],”

    Don’t choose to do stupid [feces] that will get you fired. Don’t choose to work for a sinking ship that doesn’t have its act together. Don’t choose to vote for redistributionist, statist politicians who will choke the economy on the way to pass-out, orgasmic utopia that just might have trickle-down layoff implications for your employer. Don’t choose to major in Intersectional Transcriticalist Studies with concentrations in Multidimensional Oppression and Racial Inversionist Theory and expect hot, non-profit job prospects to just thrust themselves at you like employment groupies aching for your sheepskin credentials. Especially don’t choose to be an utter moron and take out five (or Dear Lord, six) figures in student loans to get that post-postgraduate degree that hardly anyone else will value but you. FFS, make better choices. Not all events are merely things that happen. Some of them just might be consequences.

    “working for an innovative start-up company with no benefits,”

    That this is much riskier and the barriers to entry higher than they should be, is another series of artifacts of the state. Want to work for or found an innovative start-up company? Great! Oh wait, you mean the capital you’ve been trying to accumulate through employment wages on the way to your dream start-up launch has been caustically dissolved by taxes that can take as much as half or more of your wealth by the time all taxes at all levels are accounted for? You mean copious laws and regulations add to the expense and burden of starting your own company requiring you to hire expensive attorneys to help shield you from your inevitable staggering ignorance of the sheer, incomprehensible volume of said laws and regulations? You didn’t do all the research to see if the zoning commission would allow an exemption to section 85B, subsection 6.1A5 to allow your business to locate in that one section of your municipality that would be perfect for your needs? Oh man, you didn’t know that you couldn’t make personnel decisions without clearing them with the state first, putting you at risk of accidentally hiring someone completely unfit whom you really need to purge later but are afraid to because they belong to a “protected” minority group and are afraid they may tie you up in expensive litigation, even if you’re absolutely right and they are lying?

    Right. The problem isn’t any of that. It’s that people aren’t controlled enough as stated by Rep. John Dingell, Democrat:

    “living in an area with no access to quality health care (it’s true folks),”

    “[choosing to live] in an area with no access to quality health care…” is how that should have been stated, because this is a direct choice, and choices have consequences. People will neighborhood-shop solely to get their kids into good schools (artifact of the state), so it’s not as if they’re unable to weigh important factors to come to a sensible decision. If the following happens—“Hey Mable, you like that there shanty?” “Yeah, Cletus, it sure is sturdy, and there isn’t any sign of other people for a hundred miles so we’ll have plenty of privacy.” “Sure will! What could possib-lie go wrong?”—then there may be some Darwinnowing in their future. If they choose to live where they cannot access quality medical services and subsequently find themselves in acute need of them, it would be unreasonable to place blame anywhere but squarely on them.

    “or, worst of all, don’t even think of getting sick, for you may still go bankrupt anyway.”

    That’s not something that can be legislated away; again, it’s not a nail just because our Overlords of Leviathan—I mean, legislators—have big, clumsy sledge hammers. There will always be ailments and conditions that by their very nature with any current state of the medical art will necessarily bankrupt those afflicted should they choose to fight them to the utmost. That these ailments and conditions exist is simply another fact of reality.

    But, to be charitable, perhaps you’re making a different claim similar to the one that I hypothesized when I first used the engine metaphor. If your claim or observation is that there is a margin at which there are certain ailments or conditions that currently cause bankruptcy that would not cause bankruptcy upon a wholesale change in the healthcare system, then I might agree. Again, where we disagree is what kind of change will produce that desirable effect at the margin. You want to add more of what’s gotten us here in the first place as I’ve already laid out in detail. You want that monorail.

    “So those are reasons–sufficient I think–to change our system.”

    Agreed, but not for the same reasons, and certainly not in the same direction.

    “Every other industrialized nation in the world has (1) better health care outcomes;”

    You need to present at least some evidence for this empirical claim. Before that, however, you must be clear about what you mean by “heath care outcomes”, which is not clear-cut. It ought to mean a ceteris paribus comparison of health care systems and aggregate outcomes for medical services rendered by those systems. In that kind of comparison, which is the only legitimate kind, it should be possible to see how much better off a patient would be in one system compared to another. For example, I spend Halloween in hell eating all of the donuts in the world as they are crammed in my face by a donut force-feeding machine, but somehow can be transported to one of Earth’s healthcare systems to help mitigate the inevitable negative health effects that follow. Which one would I choose to go to? The one that “has [the best] health outcomes” as discovered by a ceteris paribus comparison of healthcare systems.

    What I’m obliquely pointing at here are the flawed metrics commonly used in the healthcare debate, such as infant mortality rates and life expectancies. Neither of these two metrics can be used in a ceteris paribus comparison because they include other factors that do not remain constant.

    Country A has a superior healthcare environment—it may not necessarily be a “system” in the top-down, government-control sort of way, hence the more general “environment”—that would serve the donut-eater from hell much better than Country B’s: maybe the doctors are more competent, the facilities more cutting-edge, the drugs more efficacious, the regulation and litigation less burdensome, etc. But Country A is somehow populated entirely with suicidal, depressed idiots who have a penchant for drunken drag-racing, gangland violence, illicit hard drugs, and The Daily Show. If Country A’s life expectancy were 45 years while Country B’s were 55 years, it would be foolish to conclude that Country B’s healthcare environment were superior, because life expectancy does not control for such factors not inherent to the provision of medical services, especially factors of personal choice. To further illustrate, it’s probable that in a parallel universe where the populations of both countries were swapped but the healthcare environments remained unchanged, the difference in life expectancies would be reversed and amplified: maybe Country A’s population in the second universe enjoys a life expectancy of 95 years while Country B’s suffers one of 30 years because Country A has the superior population and culture and not just the superior healthcare environment.

    Infant mortality is another metric that fails the ceteris paribus test. If Country A’s population is bred from inferior genetic stock such that the babies born in it would be less viable than the babies in the inferior healthcare environment of Country B, it’s entirely possible, once again, for Country A to have a higher infant mortality rate. In fact, it may be precisely because Country A has the superior healthcare environment that can birth less viable children that Country A might have the higher infant mortality rate.

    To reiterate, the only kind of evidence that is legitimate is evidence from ceteris paribus comparisons that control for or hold constant all non-healthcare factors that show that government-controlled systems such what as you favor are superior to those that are freed from the bureaucratic control of the managerial state.

    “(2) pays not nearly what we already pay per person;”

    The causes for this are myriad; most if not all of them boil down to factors different from what you imply, and I’ve laid out the general description: legislative and regulatory build-up. An example: pharmaceutical drugs and drug re-importation. I seem to remember at some point two presidents ago that there was a debate about reimporting drugs from Canada. American drugs were exported to Canada at below-market prices. Big Pharma wanted to maintain a market presence there by complying with their socialized healthcare system which capped how much would be paid for drugs. To compensate for this loss, Big Pharma would recoup their R & D costs and generate profits disproportionately in the United States by charging higher prices than they charged in Canada. When someone got the clever idea to re-import the artificially cheaper exported drugs back to the U.S., Big Pharma didn’t like it one bit. Americans were essentially footing the bill for some of the costs of another country’s socialist medical system. And through that situation is revealed a fundamental problem with socialized anything: it relies on other people’s money, and as Thatcher observed, sooner or later, you run out of it.

    “(3) covers everyone.”

    This means very little. “Coverage” has been conflated with actual healthcare so as to become a poor and deceptive proxy for it.

    Imagine a finite amount of whatever metals are used for armor plating and stretching its application too thin among too many people and vehicles. You could say they were all “covered”, but if the armor were aluminum-foil thin, it would border on useless, or worse than useless if those who were covered thought they could rely on it for a greater degree of protection than the armor of “universal coverage” would provide.

    To the utopian socialists who seek the holy grail of equality with religious zeal, the quality of actual medical access and care matters less than increasing the scope of those covered. That was made evidenced by the derisive commentary on so-called “Cadillac” health plans that seemed to offer to those covered by them more and better coverage than others were comfortable with. You want to keep your “Cadillac” plan? Tough shit for you, because we need some of those resources to pay for neonatal care for that single mother who just had her fourth child who’s been on welfare since her first. (Seriously, government welfare shouldn’t exist at all, but if it must, there should be a provision in there that you lose it forever if you choose to bear children while on it. “My body, my choice”?: total horseshit when I’m forced to pay for it.)

    “Those are fairly straightforward facts.”

    Not even close. But even if they were, they wouldn’t straightforwardly lead to the conclusion of your argument.

  8. *[Comment the Fif’; the Second (which is unlabeled this way) and Third and Fourth are stuck in moderation and may appear after this one if this one goes through immediately. (Darn it! I meant to clean up some of the [feces] and horse[feces] in the Fourth)]*

    “The level of direct government involvement in each of these systems varies: a lot in the case of Britain; little in the case of Germany and Switzerland. It has been established by crushing, boring, Al Gore-style reality, that such systems exist, work, and few of the citizens in those countries would dream of switching them for what we have.”

    Again, definitions are important. So much so, that without an explicit one for “works”, for example, one might suspect you were trying to smuggle the conclusion of your argument in one of the premises. There’s a term or phrase for that: “pleading the inquiry” or “beseeching the interrogative” or…something like that—I forget. I’m sure if I beg the Good Lord for an answer to that question, He’ll bless me with Total Recall of it soon enough.

    Yes, Al Gore is boring, and his tendencies toward totalitarianism crushingly so. You’ll get no argument from me on that one. Linking him to reality as he flies all over the world in his fuel-guzzling private jet to preach the religious gospel of global warming on the other hand…well, it’s a stretch, a suspension, a suspension bridge of disbelief that’s about to collapse. I’m not saying his jet-setting bears any relevance to the validity of any pro-AGW arguments, just that if it’s true, that makes Al Gore an elite asshole for making that problem worse via one of the most carbon-spewing methods of transportation on this oh-so-fragile planet. He should ride the monorail instead.

    I’m curious to know how well-informed those foreign citizens are about our healthcare system as well as their own such that they would be able to draw ceteris paribus comparisons of our respective systems and produce sound arguments for the superiority of their systems over ours. I like candy more than broccoli. That doesn’t mean that candy will be better for me in the long run. Americans as a whole may like their Western diet with all its fast, fried, and fattening food more than a traditional Japanese or Mediterranean diet. That doesn’t mean those latter two diets aren’t better for them in the long term. What this points to, of course, is another phrase for what may be happening here: “petition the plebiscite” or “sad pop-your-lump”—damn, I forget again. If I get my internet trolling license revoked over this, I’ll have to appeal to the people on the licensing board to get it reinstated.

    “What does this mean? It means that when folks like Tom Coburn, Senator of Oklahoma, say that it’s false that government is the solution, it is right to wonder what the evidence for that view is. The government has been the solution for everyone else.”

    I get that at this point you think you have provided a sound argument for a government-controlled medical system, so it makes sense that you’d think the burden of proof would be on Coburn to show how it is false that the government is the solution. After all, look at all the evidence! Is he even living on the same planet? It’s as if reality itself has shouldered the burden of proof for government controlled medical systems and it’s up to Coburn now to prove otherwise. Except that it has not been proven that government is the solution. I’ve actually argued here for how government is the exact opposite, so the burden is not on Coburn. It is on you. It is on any statist who wants government-controlled medicine. On principle, the burden of proof lies with those who would violate liberty to show why it must be violated; the burden is not on those whose liberty would be violated to show why it should not be.

    “Normally here we don’t make arguments. We criticism them. That of course opens us to the (immature) objection: if you’re so smart, etc. This is not an answer to that criticism–which is too silly to be answered.”

    In your defense, I agree that such an objection would be misapplied. You can decide for yourself what the purpose or goal of your blog will be, and if you want it to be primarily a venue to critique arguments found in the public square in the hope of inoculating at least some readers against invalid arguments, there is nothing wrong with that. I imagine you must have come across such objections in the past. Hopefully, they didn’t come repeatedly from the same people.

    “Rather, in light of the enormous weight of the evidence in favor of a health care system not unlike one that works (and there many examples of them),”

    Not a fraction of which has been presented here. Again, I think I’ve shown that the evidence is actually on the opposite side.

    “we in America have to have a conversation about things like the following: [in which you quote some criticism of various proposals’ lengths, later collectively calling them red herrings]”

    As I stated way up in the beginning of this rant, laws are not arguments. Critiquing them for length, therefore, is immune to any informal logical fallacy, which means it’s immune to the red herring.

    It’s important to go further. The longer and more complex a bill is, the more difficult it is for the subjects to obey, both in terms of compliance costs and sheer knowledge of them. A law really does suffer from being too big, and laws in general suffer from being too many. It does make sense to point out that particular laws might be too big and see that as a problem.

    I forget which one it is, but I know there is a book solely focused on the absurd situation Americans find themselves in when it comes to the laws that govern us. It’s so bad that the typical American breaks the law something like three times per day and they don’t even know it. How could they? There are so many, and they are so huge, an entire lifetime would be insufficient to learn them all. It may have made sense at one point to adhere to the principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse for violating it. It is absurd to hold people to that principle today when it is literally impossible for all of us not to be ignorant of all but a tiny sliver of our laws.

    And those are just the laws. There are mountains of regulations that accrete on top of the law. It makes sense to think of them as the products of “legislative outsourcing”. Legislators pass laws that establish bureaucracies who do much if not most of the real legislating. The unconstitutionality of the arrangement aside, these regulations have the force of law themselves and often dwarf the laws that beget them. That‘s important to remember when someone does a cute reformatting trick to show that a thousand-page bill is really only half as many pages without all the titles, paragraph breaks, etc. and then when someone else points out that a work of fiction is longer than a reformatted law and tells the fans of that work’s author to “take that…!”

    To determine the true length of a law, one must not only count the pages of the law itself, but also all of the pages of regulations that that law spawns. So when there’s a 0bamacare law, for example, it isn’t just one or two thousand pages long if there will also be a mammoth bureaucracy that will be tasked with the grunt work of making that law reality. It will be the law plus all of the edicts, addenda, revisions, etc. that it will ever issue to “clarify” and implement the law. I have no doubt whatsoever that when all of that is taken into account, even Atlas Shrugged would seem like a leaflet by comparison. “Take that, Marxist statists!”

    “Who could possibly be expected to read it?”

    I don’t know, but apparently not whomever House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was talking to here: . I love having my fancy tickled by finding out what’s in a bill *after* it’s passed.

  9. *[Comment the Sixth; the Second (which is unlabeled this way) and Third and Fourth are stuck in moderation and may appear after this one if this one goes through immediately. (Looks like the Fif’ went through like a wet finger through one-ply.)]*

    Often the hindsight one man has today is the foresight that the wiser man had yesterday. Relative to all of the lies and broken promises—sorry, things that tuned out not to be true ( )—about 0bamacare, I happen to be in the latter camp, and I may only be wise enough to know that I’m not that wise. There were too many contradictory claims made about it: it would simultaneously cut costs and expand “coverage”, presumably without diminishing quality or the ease or timeliness of access. Not only were those things not true, they actually got worse along with the availability of full time employment.

    Unless the healthcare law would have moved the system from a significantly unfree market encumbered by deadweight losses toward a freer market unencumbered by them, delivering on all those things was always an Inception-style pipe dream within a pipe dream, and it didn’t take someone particularly well endowed with wisdom to see that.

    (For a different take on socialist medicine, check out this site:

    I’m tired of pro- regressive busybodies telling me what I must do with my body, my words, my money, my property, and my time, which I can never get back. I’m tired of the paternalist, fat, asshat bureaucrats of the managerial state telling me what’s good for me and that I must sacrifice my self-interest for what’s good for someone else. I’m tired of being treated effectively as tax livestock for the perpetuation of that which causes so much harm in this world. It isn’t all about electing this or that asshat or implementing this or that stupid and long-and-complicated-to-the-point-of-incomprehensible policy. It goes much deeper than that: it is morally wrong.

  10. Hi VAD. The length and number of your comments is testament to something. Complicated things require long documents. QED.

  11. “Hi VAD. The length and number of your comments is testament to something. Complicated things require long documents. QED.”

    Hi, Scott. Thank you for responding.

    I’m no logical Kevin Butler or Adam Vinatieri with the rhetorical football, but even they would have a hard time kicking it through the uprights given how far you’ve shifted the goalposts. Of course for those things that actually do require documents, the complicated things are likely to require long documents as is appropriate. If your argument is that [all] complicated things require long documents, healthcare is a complicated thing, therefore healthcare requires long documents, then of course your argument is valid. However, the first premise is not true, so the argument is unsound and therefore fails.

    There are some things that don’t require documents at all, even some complicated things. In the particular case of health care, I was arguing in a way that it is one such thing that doesn’t require documents at all. In fact, the sheer, inherent complexity of healthcare, or any economic sector for that matter, might just mean that it actually cannot be reduced to pages of documents, no matter how tall the stack. An apt analogy would be like trying to send gigabits of Internet data per second through a dial-up connection with a 56k modem. Healthcare has too much bandwidth for the 56k modem of the bureaucratic, managerial state. I believe it was Hayek who observed that there is too much information in economic systems that are too complex for the kind of central planning inherent in trying to reduce it to a stack of “documents” to use your parlance. Central planners simply cannot have the level of knowledge required at the micro level on the ground.

    Let’s reduce it to the absurd. Life is the arguably the most complicated “thing”. A totalitarian legislative dictator who wanted to pass a single law called the “How You Must Live Your Life and Make Every Single Decision for Every Possible Set of Circumstances Act of 2017” would have to write a such an impossibly long “document” because of how complicated a thing life is. That doesn’t mean we need to pass that law, or even countenance the very legitimacy of debating it. Again, not all complicated things require documents, let alone long documents.

    But John’s original goalposts were about pointing out a logical fallacy that while real in general, I argued does not apply in this particular case regarding Sean Spicer’s comment and the healthcare debate and law and government more broadly. Like I said way up there, laws are not arguments where charges of this logical fallacy even make sense. It would be a bit like charging someone in the AGW debate with the appeal to authority fallacy if that someone were to cite scientists presenting empirical evidence. I am still genuinely surprised John did not recognize this before he uploaded his original post.

    In this comment, I think not only did I kick the rhetorical football between the original goalposts’ uprights, but I kicked it so hard and true that it circled the globe and went through them a second time, so unless in this case “QED” means something like, “Quick! End Debate!”, I’m not sure what you think you’ve demonstrated.

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