Good advice on how to treat those who disagree with you

From Greg Mankiw:

I have found that to convince other people, it is usually best not to assume your own moral superiority but rather to talk with them as equals who just happen to have a different point of view.

He also addresses a logical fallacy.

After the first session was over, one of the hecklers came up to me and asked, “How much money have the Koch brothers paid you?”

If I am wrong, it is sincere wrong-headedness, not the result of being on some plutocrat’s payroll, as some on the left want to believe.

I agree.  Address the argument, not the motives. But I’m not so sure about this:

The hecklers probably limit their own effectiveness by questioning the motives of those who disagree with them.

I think they have found that tactic works extremely well to gain acceptance with those who hold similar views. It may also work well to convert those who are on the fence and searching for an easy excuse to decide one way or the other.

And, unfortunately, it’s an effective defense mechanism that prevents the hecklers themselves from evaluating the issue.

Good reading on the minimum wage

Here’s the best thing I’ve read about the minimum wage in a long time, from Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek.

Don has been working this lump of clay to articulate his case against the minimum wage for a long-time and I think it’s finally taken shape into something that is compelling. I especially like:

Flaws galore infect Steven Pearlstein’s case for raising the minimum wage (“Big strides could come from a small bump in pay,” Jan. 5) – that is, his case for government intervention to strip low-skilled workers of the most valuable of the few bargaining chips they have when competing for employment, namely, their ability to offer to work for hourly pay below that of other, more qualified workers who are paid the government-stipulated minimum.

I also like his explanation for why the minimum wage studies that folks like Pearlstein use to support their opinions are flawed.

It would be like empirically studying today the effects of a recent rise in the minimum-allowed price of strawberries if strawberries had long ago been made unnecessarily pricey by minimum-strawberry-price legislation.  Consumers would long ago have switched their diets away from strawberries; chefs would long ago have begun concocting fewer desserts and recipes with strawberries and more with other fruits and berries.  Other ingredients would have become staple substitutes for strawberries in consumers’ diets and in chefs’ dishes and recipes.  Farmers, in turn, would have – despite the formal, legislated higher list price for strawberries – either totally abandoned or significantly abandoned strawberry production.

Read the whole thing.

A very important fact, indeed

I agree with Yuval Levin, from his EconTalk podcast, about a simple point and an important fact:

I think Conservatives today don’t often enough make the simple point: that, when it comes to economics the market system that we are advocating has been the best thing that has ever happened to the poor in human history. And has dramatically reduced extreme poverty around the world and is still doing it right now; has been the way in which the needy and the vulnerable have been lifted up. It’s worked far better than anything else we’ve every tried, far better than anything the Left has tried to do economically. And that should matter. That’s a very important fact.

I hear this point made on occasion in left/right debates by the right. I find it interesting at how quickly it gets swept under the rug by the left. It’s usually with a red herring like, “but capitalism has its problems, too.” What I find interesting is how uninterested the left is in examining this important fact.

It goes back to the Levin quote in the previous post, “…the left takes for granted a thriving economy that just comes in the background…

This very important fact, in fact, was key in dislodging my liberal thinking. Before it was pointed out to me, I too, took the thriving economy for granted.

But, when it was pointed out to me, it was eye opening. Rather than sweeping it under the rug, I went silent and thought, if that’s right, how could I be against it? Isn’t it achieving the very thing that I say I want?

Levin went on to say:

Beyond that, the kind of society we are arguing for is a society that for very solid reasons we believe is grounded in a way of life that helps advance the moral good. A way of life that helps people build the sort of lives they want. That makes government more effective at solving problems that people confront. That gives people the room to build the lives they want and protects them from the worst risks that they might confront in modern life, rather than a society that says: This is the way, and you have to do it. Which, again and again, this is how the Left approaches the life of our society: centralize, consolidate, exercise authority to push people into the right grooves.

I couldn’t help to think of this quote when I read this Wall Street Journal op-ed on the politics around the federal nutrition standards for school cafeterias.

The nutrition mandates from 2010 First Lady bill centralizes nutritional choices for school lunches to “push people into the right grooves.”

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Bottom up links

In this Freakonomics podcast, Steven Levitt discusses his work with companies whose managers resist experimentation to test their beliefs.

In one example, he couldn’t convince a company to stop running newspaper ads in any market to see if that would have an effect on sales. But, they discovered that an intern neglected to buy ads in Pittsburgh one summer. It had no effect on sales. But, the company still buys ads.

In this EconTalk podcast, Yuval Levin made what I expected to be a dull conversation about Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, very interesting. On this, especially, I agree:

I think that there’s a way in which the Left takes for granted a thriving economy that just comes in the background and the question is how to distribute the goods. We have to make the argument that that thriving economy–which makes possible the thriving life of this society–has to be sustained. And it’s a function of certain attitudes toward law and order, of certain kinds of rules, certain kinds of liberties that have to be defended, both because they are right and because they are good. Conservatives are nowhere near good enough at making that kind of case.

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Participation Trophy College

The previous post brings to mind discussions I’ve had on the topic in the past. In one such discussion, a person asked:

So, do you want to be the one who tells someone they can’t go to college?

It shows how much of a pedestal we’ve put college education upon. Like home ownership, it’s now a dream, that everyone is entitled to.

In home ownership, we forgot that renting was a good option for many. With college education, we forget that people without college education do fine, too.

Do I want to be the one who tells someone they can’t go to college? No. If I did, I’d apply to be a college admissions officer.

But telling people they can’t go to college or people deciding for themselves that it isn’t for them isn’t bad. How’s it any different from telling people they didn’t get a part in a movie or people deciding that pursuing their dream of acting isn’t panning out so they should try something else?

How’s it any different from kids in sports not making the team or deciding that a certain sport isn’t for them?

The question also shows how unimaginative we’ve become. It’s college or else. We can’t imagine alternatives. Yet, there are many.


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Good from afar, far from good

I realized that quip to describe the phenomenon where someone of the opposite sex looks attractive from a distance, but less so the closer you get to them, also applies to the poor and needy.

Deserving from afar, far from deserving?

I’ve noticed that the folks who tend to be strong advocates for the generic needy (the needy from afar), become less so the closer they get to specific needy people and to their own wallets.

I, again, recall a conversation with a friend who owned a car lot. He was a strong advocate for the deserving and faceless “minimum wage worker,”, because they were powerless against employers. But, apparently the car salesmen on his lot weren’t deserving of that treatment since he treated them as contractors so he wouldn’t have to be locked into paying them minimum wage.

Health insurance is another example. The faceless uninsured was used to garner support for Obamacare because everyone ‘deserves access to health care’. But, put faces on some of the uninsured and look at some of the choices they’ve made — like paying for an expensive cell phone plan, instead of buying insurance — and the ‘deserving’ moniker starts to make less sense.

This exposes a good tactic to use in conversations with people who have the ‘deserving from a far, but far from deserving’ affliction. First, put some faces on those who they think are deserving.

Their next argument will be that those are only a few abusers or outliers and ‘that should be fixed, but doesn’t take away from the vast majority of the other (faceless) deserving.’

To which, a good response is, “How do you know? Are you guessing?”

This looks good

Jeffrey Sachs was interviewed on EconTalk, not long after Nina Munk’s interview that was critical of Sachs’ Millennium Villages Project. Can’t wait to hear it.