Smart People Spread
May 26, 2011 5 Comments
One of the things that frustrates me in disagreements is when the opponent demonstrates (what I guess can be called) insufficiently-mathematical thinking. Or just, more generally: lack of logic. I think this is what’s part of going on in the post below.
It’s perfectly ok to have genuine political disagreements, and in fact I have had such a long experience living in places and working in environments/industries where I am essentially a lone political curiosity that I’m quite well able to disagree respectfully.
But not when the opponent can’t even seem to grasp, or won’t acknowledge, the basic logical principles that apply to the situation under discussion.
For example: When it comes to Obamacare mandating this and that, it’s fine if you happen like those mandates, nevertheless it’s simply a fact that such mandates come with tradeoffs. There’s no such thing as a mandate with no tradeoffs. So a legitimate, intelligent discussion of Obamacare has to be centered on whether those tradeoffs are worth it. Maybe they aren’t and maybe they are, and reasonable people can disagree, but Obamacare’s defenders, almost as a point of pride sometimes, either can’t or won’t or are incapable of addressing the point at all – or, they wave it away, focusing only on the perceived benefits of their policy, as if they are costless. In my book this fails discussion 101 – actually it fails thinking 101 – and there is nothing further to say; the case for Obamacare is lost by forfeit, never having actually been made.
In the particular example of the below post, it’s simply a fact that if a law ‘mandates’ a company that was previously contractually selling product X to suddenly bucket Y along with X, this makes the value/cost of that product higher, and someone has to pay for that. (Here X = ‘health plan’ and Y = ‘…including 18-26 year old children as dependents on a health plan’.) Maybe that is right and proper, due to whatever reasons, to mandate such a bucketing but again: if you can’t at least acknowledge the inevitable effect (increased cost, on someone), I don’t know what discussion can be had.
Let’s continue: if you make the ‘health plan’ that these insurers contract with employers to offer more expensive, they will have to raise the price and/or absorb the cost (take a loss/less profit) themselves. I happen to believe it will essentially be the former. You can disagree, and believe it will be more the latter than the former (and make an actual argument as to why you think that), but you can’t just deny or ignore this effect altogether.
Let’s continue then: if you make the cost of a product (e.g. employee health plans) higher for the buyer (e.g. employers), it’s simply a fact that they will buy less of it, and/or defray the cost by buying less of something else. How much less, and what something-else they’ll buy less of, is open to debate. I personally think the most likely result is simply that employers reduce (cash) salaries to compensate, and/or don’t hire as many people at the margin, because after all, the cost of hiring/employing people went up, by definition. I might be wrong about that (or at least, about the extent to which that will be the reaction), and intelligent people could disagree. But it’s not open to debate that when costs of transactions are raised by government fiat, some trade-off will occur.
All of which is to say, you can disagree about tradeoffs, and about costs vs benefits, and even value the benefits differently than I do (e.g., using morality). But you can’t just ignore them altogether and expect me to have any respect at all for your opinion.
To venture off into a different example: an industry mailing-list I’m on has recently gotten bogged down in a discussion of affirmative action, so I’ve had a chance to see both sides of the issue stated (rather ineptly) by nonspecialists and non-expert debaters, and each new thread is a frustration. The reason is the same: reasonable people can disagree about affirmative action, but there are some logical facts about which they cannot.
One of these facts is that if you engage in anything meriting the term ‘affirmative action’, you are altering your hiring criteria such that – at the margin – a person can end up getting a job they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten due to having a certain skin hue and/or genitalia. Make no mistake: If you’re doing affirmative action, it automatically follows that this is, at least sometimes, taking place. If this never takes place, you’re not doing ‘affirmative action’ as is commonly understood.
In other words, logically, ‘affirmative action’ – if it means anything at all – effectively means naked discrimination, sometimes, at the margin, in favor of certain races/genders. This is simply a fact that no sane, intelligent person can deny. Yet of course, affirmative action’s defenders all denied it!
The common thread in these atrocities against logic is often that the person tries to hide their illogic in a dizzying mist of fancy words and hifalutin language. I believe, indeed, that what a lot of Smart People learn from school is how to dress up their arguments, however illogical, in ‘smart’ enough language that no one notices the lack of logic or feels qualified to call them on it.
There is a sense in which all too many Smart People have been trained to replace genuine, logical thinking with something resembling a competitive word game. And it’s really no wonder that the latter is more popular; logical thinking is hard and rigorous and requires actual brains and concentration, but competitive word games can be fun (I recommend the decent film Rocket Science for a primer on what I learned was called ‘debate spreading’), and require only that you know how to phrase all your thoughts in the form of fancy buzzwords and circumlocutions. i.e., That you went to a decent college.