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Clarity is Courage

It is good intellectual practice (probably not dinner party practice) to take your ideas until they can go no further. If I had one magic wand to wave, one feature I might consider is that all of our attempts to be liked or at least not appear to be one of the deplorables were seriously attenuated.

Think about some policies you are either in favor of, or opposed to (and yes, I think this works in both directions). To really appreciate the idea, take it to the end. So, take for example the minimum wage. Ignoring the moral and economic arguments, just think for a moment about why you do or do not like it and what you think such a wage means and may end up doing. Now, I think a very healthy internal debate for you to have (or external one too?) is to think about how you would feel taking the position to the extreme. So, while we all argue today about whether it ought to be $7.25 or $10.10 or $15 or some other non-scientifically appointed number, take it further. If you think a $15 minimum wage will accomplish what you think it does (e.g. it tells businesses they can’t just go paying people whatever small amounts they wish, or it makes poorer people richer, etc.), then what do you think of a $60 per hour minimum wage. No one should have to live on less than $120,000 per year. Do you think this is more in line with how much businesses “owe” others? Do you think this will put more money in the pockets of the poor.

And then, perhaps compare this thinking with the complete opposite. If we are debating whether to keep the minimum wage where it is or to increase it, take it to zero. What would the world look like if there were no minimum wage at all? Would you see employers more profitable and better able to attract more workers? Would you see demand for products increase and therefore result in more employment? Would you see continued exploitation of workers and a race to the bottom for all of us.

It really becomes almost boring to debate $7.15 versus $15. We ought to be arguing on $60 versus $0 and see which of these is “closer” to better on the grounds you are arguing from. In addition to clarifying why you hold the views that you do, having the extreme version of the discussion will surely help us appreciate that on almost no policy issue is the case simply black and white – my bet is that an overwhelmingly large number of ideas we debate have big fat gray areas.

Don’t expect people will enjoy this method of inquiry, you surely will not remain popular if you pursue it. “Hater of the poor!” “Commie!” And so on. But don’t let that distract you.

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