Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Cheap imports and absurdities

Here's a nice collection of reductio ad absurdums applied to critics of free trade, free charity, and "cheap imports".
When arguing with someone along these lines, I first ask, "So are you saying that it would it be better for the US if foreigners shipped us expensive imports?" This usually causes some hesitation. Then I follow up with what is, in my opinion, a zinger: "So if cheap imports are bad, does that mean foreigners would really be hurting us if they shipped us goods for free?" I think this question makes something click for many people, because no matter how much they've read about domestic job destruction, they still harken back to the childhood truth that it is good to receive presents.
Which eventually leads into the idea that if giving the Zambians free clothing makes them poorer, stealing their clothing should make them richer.

The trouble with reductio ad absurdum is that it appeals to (a) economic intuition, and (b) a sense of humor -- both sadly lacking qualities in your typical debate opponent over this sort of issue. It's great for convincing people who already agree with you, but that's about it. The problem is that the notion of trusting government to solve social and economic problems is already so absurd that there's nowhere you can go that's enough sillier to be disbelieved. Throughout my life, every time I thought I had a solid reductio, within 5 years it was no longer absurd. Banning smoking in public? Absurd! Suing fast-food chains for making people overweight? Ridiculous! Putting people in prison for possession of devices or information that merely could, potentially, be used to commit a crime, even if it wasn't actually so used? Ask Martha Stewart, Dmitry Skylarov, and Tommy Chong how silly those ideas were.

So I still enjoy a good reductio ad absurdum, but I don't expect too much out of them.

Where am I going with this, you ask? Just that I hope this essay doesn't get too much exposure, or we really will see government-sponsored panty raids, intended for the benefit of the country raided and also as a "jobs" program.


At 5:15 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

You posted a link to an essay you "hope doesn't get too much exposure"?


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