Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How to Explain Red Herrings to a Bloomberg Columnist

"Tom - thanks for the long note. I've having trouble sorting through your argument on the fallacy on the fallacy. Can you send me what you wrote so I can read?"

Hi Caroline,

I'm attaching a copy of my 2007 Review of Social Economy article, "Why Economists Dislike a Lump of Labor," the text of my 2000 article "The 'lump of labor' case against work-sharing: populist fallacy or marginalist throwback?" and a more recent piece I wrote for the new economics foundation in the U.K. that contains some of my more recent research and seeks to set out the argument step by step. At it's core, my argument is simply that the "fixed amount of work" is a figment of the imagination of the economists who invoke the fallacy, not a belief of those who are accused of committing it. There is no evidence for the latter nor is there any "logical necessity" that establishes it.



"I found it very hard to follow your email. So a fixed amount of work IS a fallacy but the economists who tout it believe the amount is fixed? Is that what you are saying?"


A fixed amount of work WOULD BE a fallacy if someone actually believed it. The economists who tout the fallacy claim make a false accusation that advocates of shorter work time, etc. believe in a fixed amount of work. The accusation is a red herring and is the source of all the confusion that follows. It is a "when did you stop beating your wife?" type of rhetorical construction that covertly presents a spurious allegation as an undisputed 'truth' and then shields that primary allegation behind a secondary screen: "that belief is a fallacy," "you have (or haven't) stopped beating your wife."

That secondary claim is irrelevant and is a distraction. Why would it matter that belief in a fixed amount of work is a fallacy if no one believed there was a fixed amount of work or even if such a belief, though false, was itself inessential to the broader policy issue?


6:56 AM: "Sorry. I can't follow your explanation. I'm on deadline. I'll look at your work later this week. Thx."

6:57 AM: "I think I get it now. People do believe it b/c their arguments about shipping jobs overseas, automation, etc. Suggest that they do. Obama's comment on ATM machines. The labor unions believe it. So I guess I don't agree w/ you that no one believes it. Obama's "made in America" is another example."

(to 6:57 AM) You got it, Tinkerbell. If YOU believe strongly enough that other people believe something, that makes it true! Clap louder!

(to 6:56 AM) Yes, dear, it is hard to follow explanations that don't confirm your biases. No need to bother "looking at" my work later this week. There's nothing in there that confirms what you already think you know and are determined to keep believing no matter what.

(Caroline Baum bills herself as "a Bloomberg View columnist, writing about the macro-economy and the intersection beween [sic] politics and economics. My specialty is exposing economic nonsense.")


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