Great Stossel Show

If you’re like me and don’t have the Fox Business News channel in your line-up, you’re missing good television.  Luckily, there’s this thing called Youtube where you can also view his show.  His latest show was on Milton and Rose Friedman’s book and video series, Free to Choose. The book came out in 1980.

Here’s the first segment of the show.

You can watch it and the rest of the segments by clicking here.  The Friedmans’ book is also an excellent read.  I read it last year as a check out from my library (I love my library).

I have a few thoughts on the show.

First, Stossel runs video footage of Friedman accepting his Nobel Prize where it appears there is one loud heckler.  It amazes me that the message of freedom can stir such a strong anti-response from people.  This reminds me of graffiti I saw scrawled on an old sheet metal building near by home decades ago that read, “Die Kapitalists Pigs.”  I was too young to know much about politics.  Though it did strike me as odd that my elementary school teachers only ever spoke of one candidate for President in ’76 – Jimmy Carter.  But, I often wondered when I saw that graffiti what was at the root of such message.

Second, the young lady in the 5th segment does a superb job at going toe-to-toe with the Friedman opponent, Ben Barber.

Third, Stossel and his guests do an excellent job at responding to the opponents points.  The one critique I have, though, is that he sometimes lets opponents steal the ball and score easy points.

In the fifth segment, Ben Barber (the opponent) says

…in government if you don’t like what they’re doing, you get to vote them out, if you don’t like BP, who do you vote for?  You just watch the world get polluted.

Stossel’s good response:

But government you get to vote every four years, I get to decide if I don’t like BP everyday.

That’s a good response.  This is where Stossel should have kept the ball.  But, he let Barber get a hand on it.

Barber replied:

You can choose whether you want BP, Shell or Mobile [though I think he meant Mobil] , but if you want light rail transport in the United States, that’s electrified, you don’t even have that choice because we have taken off the table the significant public choices that constitute real choices…as a result of unbridled capitalism you get the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Eager to use his stage prop of 70 thousand pages of one year of Federal codes, Stossel attacks Barber’s last point by saying capitalism hasn’t been unbridled.  Barber stole the ball and scored on bad logic, moving fast enough and creating enough diversion that Stossel drops the topic and moves onto the the next topic.  However, the 12 year old girl in the audience wasn’t the least bit fooled by Barber’s fallacy-filled, yet smart-sounding tirade.

Like basketball, televised debate is a quick game and you sometimes turn the ball over.  If given a chance, I may have tried to stop Barber after he said “…that’s electrified, you don’t even have that choice…”

Whistle blow! In debates, fallacies should be treated like fouls in basketball.  The play should be stopped, the foul should be called and the appropriate punishment should be given, which in this case would be stating that not having electric light rail is not relevant to Stossel’s point.

Barber committed two different types of informal fallacies, a Red Herring (also known as changing the subject) and a False Dilemma.  The double whammy is like a technical foul in basketball.

Red Herring – The topic is whether Stossels’s point about deciding daily to use BP or not is better than a political system that relies on less frequent voting.  Thomas Sowell makes some great points here in Stossel’s favor.

Instead of responding to Stossel’s  point, Barber changes the subject by presenting a False Dilemma.  The additional second fallacy is what makes this a “T” (technical foul).  Barber’s contention that not having electric light rail constitutes not having any choice except for oil is false.  We do have choice.  We have electric vehicles, we have vehicles that run on vegetable oil, we can choose to live close enough to things to walk and we have bicycles.  Because we choose to use oil doesn’t mean that we have no other choice.  It just means that we haven’t been willing to trade-off the benefits oil provides us to choose these other options on a mass scale, on a scale that meets with Barber’s preferences.

But all of that is beside the point.  Stossel should have kept the discussion focused on the whether his statement that the everyday voting that occurs is even more democratic than “our democratic institutions” that Barber kept clinging to.  Barber was simply looking for a fast break that he could end with the Gulf oil spill.  In his circles, that scores him all the points he needs and gets reflexive applause.

But, you could tell from the abysmal audience response that most here weren’t buying it.   Good.  It’s time that we start fleshing out fallacies and keep the debate focused on the topic at hand.

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