Among the crowd of folks who don’t regularly employ the force of logic, reason and good argument is a good number of folks who view the appeal to logic and consistency as hegemonic, even tyrannically adhering to imagined authority. We can have a discussion one day about the merits of such a view, of which of course there ARE, but let me offer up a reason why even these folks should appreciate logic and reason.
And why is that?
Because sometimes it actually helps your position. I know that is something that would be obvious to most people, but when people enter the churches of their worldviews, they tend to get so blinded by their passions that they overlook ideas that would support them. So take the recent news about ObamaCare. The PPACA was passed a few years ago apparently with the support of a majority of voters and obviously with the support of a lot of members of Congress. It may or may not be law in the classical sense, but it is certainly on the books. But the President has just wielded a massive amount of Executive Authority and decided that he will not have his thugs enforce a portion of that law. That part is the employer mandate, which required employers with 50 or more full-time workers to provide reasonable amounts of coverage or face penalties. As the difficulty such a burden placed on thousands of businesses became apparent, and with the labor market continuing its nearly two decade slog, and with the rise of part-time work displacing the traditional full-time work idea in America (check out the latest jobs report, it’s pretty stunning), the last thing politically this President could afford is to appear to be killing jobs.
Before I get to my main point, I find this suspension of the employer mandate incredible. This President and his Congregation regularly chastise the GOP and even folks like me for daring to suggest that raising costs on businesses or consumers would ever slow down hiring or economic activity. Indeed, this Administration has been famous for arguing that EPA regulations actually increase economic output. Well, if they believed their own malarkey, then wouldn’t they be telling all of us right now, “hey, don’t worry about those regulations! All of the lawyers needed to navigate them and all of the government workers needed to enforce them will result in more spending! And all of the workers that employers are forced to provide coverage for will be healthier and spend more and it’ll be all good! No worries. The multiplier is 1.58735624982.”
But that ain’t the tune they’re singin’ on Pennsylvania Avenue these days. As we like to say here at TUW, you can’t have it both ways. But hey, when you don’t actually speak to a populace or believe yourself that logic, reason and consistency matter, you can simply put all of your policy positions in separate little boxes and ignore what each says about the other. It must be nice to live this way.
But here’s the point. This President, and it is put very nicely here in the WSJ, is abusing Executive Authority. What makes this abuse interesting is that he seems to be abusing it, this time, in a way that his opponents like. So, we don’t see much uproar from the right about the employer mandate being suspended, we’re more likely to be seeing some wooting about it. But in fact people should be apoplectic about it. This is legislation that was passed by Congress, and it is essentially the President’s law. If we pass ’em, we better enforce ’em. We don’t simply get to pick and choose what to enforce and what not to enforce. That is what happens in Latin American people’s republics, not in serious adult republican democracies in accordance with the Rule of Law. And the point here is that when President Bush was in office, we heard uproar after uproar about abusing the Executive power. There’s a reason stodgy folks like me like the idea of limited government – because we mistrust power in all of its applications – even if WE were to wield it ourselves. And as such, it’s not OK to look the other way when “your guy” is in power. Remember that soon enough, someone you despise is going to have power over you. Do you like the idea of your most hated enemy having power over you? Do you like it even better when the use of such power is discretionary and not really bound by tradition or the force of the courts or legislation? And for the anti-reason crowd out there, you see this would be an opportunity to apply logic and reason to get an outcome you presumably prefer – and that is an enforcement of the PPACA, which you seem to support. As the WSJ article points out, on what grounds who you cry foul when the next Republican president is in office, say Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, and he decides that he will simply stop asking the Treasury to fund higher education in any way? Is your best argument really going to be, “Well, that’s JUST Wrong?” Are you going to be saying that such an act is evil? Or would you find yourself in a better position if you argued that such a move would be unconstitutional?
Finally, this entire post melds well with what my colleague Steve Landsburg writes today. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have as a colleague someone who is honest, open and uses reason and logic to make a point, and who is willing to admit when he is wrong, and not willing to accept flimsy and vacuous rhetoric in place of a real argument.
Now, among the many differences between me and Paul Krugman, there are probably some that redound to his credit. But his propensity to hide all of his reasoning (if any) is not one of them. Compare, for example, my blog post of a few years ago on working conditions in 1911 New York City, when the Triangle Shirtwaist fire claimed 146 lives, most of them young women, partly because the fire exits were blocked to prevent pilfering. Would workers in 1911 have wanted safer working conditions (including unblocked fire exits)? This was my answer:
I can’t be sure (and I’ve pointed out several reasons I might be wrong), but I’m guessing that no 1911 garment worker would have wanted to work in a factory with unlocked exit doors. If I’m right, they got the mix of risk and income they’d have chosen.
What’s important here is not my acknowledgement that I might be wrong. It’s that I took the reader through my logic and my guesstimates, step by step, and invited that reader to substitute his or her own guesstimates to see how they affect the conclusion. Along the way, I hope I taught some lessons about how to evaluate costs, benefits and policy choices.