Category: logic

Money matters

john-key-too-drunk-to-drive

John Key on raising incomes for low-income families, 3 News, 9 Sept 2014:

Prime Minister John Key says there’s no evidence that giving people money makes any difference.

“What really makes a difference is employment and employment opportunities,” he told reporters.

John Key on tax cuts, 3 News, 10 Sept 2014:

“Whatever the number was for an individual or a household, whether it’s $500, $1000, $1500 – you can pick your poison – I don’t accept the argument that doesn’t matter to a low- to middle-income family. I think it does matter.”

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On worshipping money and thanking the rich for being rich

doublefacepalm

Just when I was thinking corporate media was starting to say some good things about inequality, I saw this infuriating defense of inequality from Damien Grant.

Grant writes off Max Rashbooke’s book, and indeed all concern about inequality, as “the zero-sum fallacy; the idea that there is a set amount of cash in the economy.”

This is one of the worst straw man attacks I’ve seen in a while.

In fact, Rashbrooke et al understand better than our government that money is a relative measure, only meaningful insofar as it represents access to wealth/resources. It doesn’t matter how much total cash there is in the economy… what matters is:

a) how much resources/wealth there are in the economy, because that’s what determines how big the pie is.
b) how much cash you have in relation to others, because that’s what determines how big or small your slice of the pie is.

Total cash doesn’t affect the pie at all (if it did, Zimbabwe would be the richest country in the world).

Total cash and total resources are not ‘zero-sum’ phenomena. But percentage of access to cash and resources is (that’s the whole point of a percentage – it always sums to 100).

Rashbrooke (and, like, actual evidence and stuff) are concerned with inequality because when one person’s percentage of cash goes up, someone else’s ability to access available resources necessarily decreases. And when that’s too unequal (even when the pie’s huge) it causes numerous health and social problems across the whole society.

Grant is the one guilty of a fallacy: the idea that money is an absolute, not just a relative measure; so if there’s more total money in an economy, that automatically means there’s more wealth/resources available to people. This is more than just a fallacy, it’s a properly religious phenomenon – idolisation of money.

Post-script – extra responses to a few of Grant’s stupidest comments

“There’s no evidence that rising social and health problems are a result of income disparities.”

I’m actually astonished to see this much wilful blindness, even in corporate media. Huge amounts of research – very widely available – offer compelling evidence that inequality causes many social/health problems – from murder to community breakdown to high teen pregnancy rates. A journalist doing their job would acknowledge this evidence even if they disagree with its analysis. Grant doesn’t indicate whether he disagrees, whether he’s ignoring it, or whether he doesn’t know it exists … he simply says there’s “no evidence.”

The fact that the next sentence peddles an evidence-free stereotype (“Poor people get diabetes because they eat junk food, not because Sir Peter Jackson is rich.”) is the icing on the bullshit cake.

“Key to the inequality fantasy is that New Zealand is a neo-liberal rich-man’s paradise but the facts do not support this. Bill English said… [bla bla bla] Half the population are net beneficiaries.”

He goes on to uncritically parrot Bill English’s dishonest press release that I addressed a couple of blogs ago. If Grant was doing his job as a journalist and applying some critical thinking, he’d realise English’s figures show the opposite of what he claims.

Grant thinks workers should be grateful for being “net beneficiaries” of state assistance… grateful for a situation where their subhuman wages mean they don’t contribute much to the tax coffers, let alone to their own families, and Working for Families subsidises their employers to keep paying these sub-human wages. How much more grateful should the rich be for being “net beneficiaries” of a system that facilitates and supports such grossly unequal wealth?

“Economic growth is driven by innovative entrepreneurs adding to the total economy. They sometimes become rich by retaining some of the extra wealth they created.”

I don’t even know where to start with this statement, except to note that it’s pure ideology. He equates economic growth with ‘wealth,’ ignoring the fact that economic (GDP) growth doesn’t just include productive, wealth-producing activities, but destructive ones like crime, pollution and credit card debt. And he simplistically suggests ‘wealth’ is created by “innovative entrepreneurs,” rather than by the contributions of all workers; those who’re given the opportunity to utilise their creative/innovative skills, and those who aren’t.

The next sentence, where he uses a doctor as his archetypical example of a rich wealth-creating entrepreneur, reveals his ideological assumption that the rich become rich by doing good for the world. A better example of the very highest income earners would be a currency trader who makes much more than a doctor by producing nothing, just manipulating pieces of paper and numbers on computer screens.

Later in the article he again waxes lyrical about how much wealth the rich create, and how grateful we should be for their work. He also mentions how hard-working they are – predictably failing to provide any statistics linking hard work to high income. In fact, income and wealth distributions are way out of proportion to how hard people work… (unless the richest 1% percent work 10-16 times as hard as the average NZer).

“Poverty has many causes, welfare dependency amongst them, but blaming the hard-working for the failings of the indigent is not a solution.”

Grant is doing even worse – blaming the hard-working poor (like people working two jobs cleaning toilets on minimum wage to feed their families) for their own poverty. Despicable.

Let’s get one thing clear

NZ’s political parties at the 2011 election now updated for the 2014 election, according to PoliticalCompass.org

“It’s actually a very clear decision for New Zealanders. It’s sort of centre-right versus the far left.” – John Key today

Coming from the most right-wing prime minister in NZ’s history, this is the height of dishonesty and hypocrisy.

At most, Cunliffe et al will take NZ as far left as the Kirk government (1972-1975), which was the last government that didn’t make a total mockery of our claims to be an egalitarian country.

More likely, the next Labour government will be centrist or centre-left… still considerably to the right of traditional Labour values yet hopefully a genuine alternative to the neo-liberal inequality consensus of the last four Labour/National governments. Cunliffe has gone on record acknowledging that this neo-liberal inequality experiment has failed our economies and our people.

Meanwhile, Key, a long-time architect of this failure, is still drinking the neo-liberal Kool-Aid… dogmatically pushing National’s far-right, anti-democratic, economically idiotic, ultra-capitalist inequality ideology as far as we let him get away with.

Key, with his loyal servants in the corporate media, will attempt to claim the ‘centrist high ground’ and whip up McCarthy-esque hysteria about Cunliffe. For the second time in Cut Your Hair history, I’m advising: set your bullshit detectors to maximum.

If Bob McCoskrie is allowed a blog, what next?

slippery-slope

Three reasons slippery slope arguments are stupid:

1. Slippery slope arguments make you look like you can’t articulate a proper argument against what’s actually being discussed. “Why is this bad? Because it could lead to something bad happening.”

2. You can use them to say pretty much whatever you want:

If we allow straight people to marry, what next? Gay people wanting to marry too?

If we allow blacks and whites to marry, what next? Gay people wanting to marry too?

If we ban gay marriage, what next? Banning straight marriage?

If we let gay people raise kids, what next? Letting single parents raise kids?

If we make alcohol legal, what next? P?

If taxes on cigarettes go up, what next? Taxes on rich people going up? (I wish!)

If we change the time-honoured tradition of modern Western marriage, what next? Changing the time-honoured traditions of drink-driving and domestic violence?

If we eliminate gender restrictions on marriage, what next? Elimination of gender inequality in straight marriages?

If gay people are allowed to marry, what next? Elimination of alienation, victimisation and mental health issues among gay youth?

If gay people are allowed to marry, what next? I might have to buy them a wedding present?

3. Slippery slope arguments understand a change through a constructed narrative, rather than looking at the specific phenomenon and the actual history of change.

Swift recourse to slippery slope arguments implies that the only lens through which you can understand something is in part of a broad category of “changes to ‘traditional’ marriage” or “strange new developments” or “things my pastor told me God doesn’t like.”

This is actually a serious moral deficiency insofar as it displays a lack of ability to analyse the specific significance of something and how it affects people and society. So gay people in loving, mutual relationships are equated with sex addicts, paedophiles and men who have sex with dolphins.

Worse, proponents of slippery slope arguments project their own failures of moral imagination onto their opponents. Instead of listening and responding to the actual arguments of those who are arguing for (e.g.) gay marriage, they caricature their opponents’ moral logic into a simple reverse of their own: I want to preserve ‘traditional’ marriage. Therefore, You want to change ‘traditional’ marriage.

But “changing ‘traditional’ marriage” probably isn’t the best way of explaining the history of gay rights, and there’s certainly no alliance of polygamists and cousin-marriers plotting with gay people on what their next blow against ‘traditional’ marriage will be. If there’s any plotting, it will be about how to further increase the rights and respect of LGBTI people (see second-to-last statement in #2 above).

Of course, the increasing focusing of morality around individual freedoms, developing throughout (post-)modernity, may have something to do with the increasing support for LGBTI rights. (Or with why the marriage rights of individuals is a more important moral issue to most NZers than our ballooning economic inequality.) But individualism/liberalism can’t account for the entirety of the motivations and arguments for gay marriage. Moreover, the recent law change is the removal of a gender restriction, not a liberalisation of relationships.

Anyway, the trend towards individualism/liberalism doesn’t just mean “changes to ‘traditional’ marriage.” It’s just as much ‘to blame’ for the rise of the nuclear family, freedom of religion, and freedom to publish verbal diarrhoea about slippery slopes on the internet. Where were the slippery slope arguments then?

Two occasions where modified versions of slippery slope arguments might be OK:

1. Pointing out the logical implications of people’s assertions. This isn’t really a slippery slope argument so much as an examination of the wider scope of someone’s moral logic.

For example, if someone says “I think everyone should be allowed to marry whoever they want, so long as they consent” you can respond “So a brother and sister should be allowed to marry?” or “So one woman should be allowed to marry three men and a consenting goose?”

In which case the response is either, “Yes, I suppose you’re right, I’m happy to let people do what they want” or (more likely) “Hmmm, no, I’ll rephrase. I mean everyone should be allowed to marry whoever they want, so long as they consent and so long as it doesn’t harm them or others.”

And then – and here’s the important part – you get into a more constructive debate about which relationships we should see as inherently harmful, and why… and each case can be examined separately.

Of course this requires actually listening to what someone is saying and analysing their moral logic. For example, If someone’s moral logic is “I believe most people should be encouraged to enter healthy, lifelong, supportive marriages with people they love, and I don’t believe any particular gender roles are necessary components of a healthy marriage” the implications are going to be quite different to the liberal-permissive logic often assumed by slippery-slope proponents.

2. When there is an actual connection between what’s happening now and what might be the logical next step… and where the current step would actually make it easier for the next step to happen.

This is particularly useful if what is happening now is generally seen as harmless, but what might happen in the future is not. In this case, a slippery slope argument could form part of a range of considerations, showing that the consequences of what is happening now may be wider than people may think.

A good example might be expanding the powers of the GCSB. Even if you support some functions of the GCSB, we all know that all-encompassing Big Brother-esque powers is going too far, and it’s difficult to know where to draw the line. Since we can observe an international process of increasing powers of surveillance agencies and reducing human liberties and privacy, particularly since 9/11, it makes sense to call place the current GCSB bill in this context and let possible future developments enter into our considerations. (In fact, maybe we should have thought more about these ‘slippery slopes’ when the GCSB first opened, or when the Terrorism Suppression Act was passed, etc.)

Obviously, this is very different to gay marriage / polygamy etc. The connections are a lot closer, and the various ‘steps’ are a lot more gradual and difficult to examine/evaluate separately. Moreover, since the laws are complex the process is a lot easier to understand than the individual developments – again unlike gay marriage.