Tag Archives: Matthew Yglesias

The Pundit’s Fallacy

Internet denizen Matthew Yglesias coined the term “pundit’s fallacy” back in 2010. It goes like this:

The pundit’s fallacy is that belief that what a politician needs to do to improve his or her political standing is do what the pundit wants substantively. So progressive populists think that Barack Obama would have higher approval ratings if he acted more like Ed Schultz while establishmentarian centrists think his ratings would go up if he acted more like David Broder. The truth, of course, is that he really needs to hew more closely to my preferences politics doesn’t work this way.

For this to be a “fallacy” in any meaningful sense of the term, there has to be some reasoning failure. To me it seems the failure consists in a lack of self-awareness about one’s own perspective. Not, mind you, that you have a perspective. Rather, that you assert your perspective as the perspective without, and this is crucial, offering any argument for it.  If you put it this way there is nothing peculiar to pundits. Indeed, it’s just another form of petitio principii–the one where you assert controversial premises without evidence.
Naturally, the phrase, “without evidence” might raise some hackles. Let me specify. It’s to assert controversial things without the right kind or quality of evidence. So, for instance, democrats should have appealed to white working class voters by being less, er, judgmental, moralistic, or whatever. I’ve seen this a lot (one really bad one in today’s Chicago Tribune).
This kind of claim may be true (because any proposition can be true–well, almost any proposition). The problem is the kind of evidence offered for it. If it’s anecdotes about your father-in-law’s dislike of elites, then you’ll have to try again.  Claims about what motivates mass numbers (or important minorities in this case) of people to select one candidate over another require a special kind of evidence; you can’t ask everyone and you cannot easily interpret their selection (or non-selection) as a signal of anything in particular.

Scoring political points on Hannah Montana

Matthew Yglesias at Slate recently criticized Miley Cyrus' sympathy with the OWS.  (The Slate article has a  Miley Cyrus vid, too! Watch it at your peril.  It's pop garbage.).  The trouble Yglesias sees is that Cyrus is a beneficiary of the wealth disparities and trade policies of the last decade. 

Cyrus is the 1 percent. What's more, she's a clear beneficiary of some broad structural changes in the world economy that tend to exacerbate inequality and all relate to the economics of superstardom.

Sure, and?  She was born into that, and she became a star under conditions where she really wasn't even remotely cognizant of the sufferings of others.  The fact that she's identifying with the OWS at this stage is really testament to her intelligence.  Sure, her music stinks. And she's been made into an unpalatable product.  But it sounds like as she's grown older, she's actually developed some mature views.  Or at least developed non-adolescent political leanings.  That's an achievement.  And does the fact that she benefits from income disparity mean that she doesn't get to criticize it?  Well, really, unless some of the one-percenters understand the situation, it's not going to change.  Her views and her expression of them are good news.

And in other Tu Quoque news: in the comments on this piece, the commenter Roger Lambert drops the best double-dip:

Al Gore supports global warming legislation, but he still flies around on private jets and lives in huge houses. 
I think we can forgive young Miley whatever hypocrisy she may commit.