Broken Window Journalism

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In a column titled "Government Gone Bad", John Stossel richly illustrates the formidable task he faces as a pro-capitalist journalist. He boils it down as follows:

In my town, unions and civil rights groups demand a higher minimum wage. That sounds good to people. Everyone will get a raise!

The problem is in what is not seen. I can interview the guy who got a raise. I can't interview workers who are never offered jobs because the minimum wage or high union pay scales "protected" those jobs out of existence.

The benefit of government leaving us alone is rarely intuitive. [bold added]
This problem acts synergistically with cultural inertia, in the form of unquestioned assumptions, such as the idea that the government is in the problem-solving business, and that, consequently, the measure of a true statesman is how many new laws he passed. Stossel could have mined that vein further and deeper. However, we are at such a low state of general political awareness that even making more people question just that assumption would be a significant improvement.

-- CAV


Vigilis said...

Congratulations on spreading this valid yet elusive insight, Gus!

Steve D said...

'That sounds good to people.'
I feel for him. Of all the anti-capitalist arguments I’ve heard, the benefit of a minimum wage is the simplest to disprove. If we can’t make that point…
However, political unawareness is only part of the problem, and I’m guessing not the major part.
I know Ph.D. scientists who will argue we should have a minimum wage and will tune out the (easy) rebuttal. I even had a dean once tell me that our trade imbalance was a worse problem than the national debt, and he had a scheme to print fiat money to get people to work which would pay for the printed money later; the type of magical thinking which would never have been allowed in his lab. He didn’t listen to my point about the terrible problem of my trade imbalance with the local grocery store.
I submit that most (or at least a lot of) people are smart enough to understand why a minimum wage is a bad thing; but they don’t want to understand; on purpose they make no effort. I’m not entirely sure that Stossel gets that BTW. Consider this.
‘Unintended consequences are inevitable.’
What about the intended consequences?
Why is it that everyone agrees that you can’t get something for nothing in physics but they think you can in economics?
I’ve noticed that people have an almost infinite capacity for rationalization and compartmentalization. That is why the truth is never assured to win. That is what makes me fear for the future.

Gus Van Horn said...




You're certainly correct that ignorance isn't the only problem. However, fighting to change unchangeable minds like the ones you describe is a waste of time: Those minds are lost forever. The proper focus is to work to reach those who CAN be persuaded by facts and rational argument. There are plenty of such people, and for them ignorance is very often the biggest problem. (Apathy induced by feeling isolated in a sea of irrational people rivals this.)


Steve D said...

It would be interesting to examine if there are signs which may indicate a changeable mind. In my experience the more intelligent a person is, the harder it is to change their mind. I am not sure if this is a general phenomenon or not.

Gus Van Horn said...

Good question, and here's a related thought: Past a certain age, most people are set in their ways, psycho-epistemologically. People who tend to integrate their knowledge will be hard to persuade, because the odds are that they will have made many, many incorrect connections (e.g., "Yeah, but what does the Church say about this?"). People who don't will often be unable to get an abstract argument at all. (Yeah. Obama taking over GM WAS bad, but that has nothing to do with medicine.

Youth may be the best initial indicator of a possibly reachable mind. Others take longer enough to detect that the best course for a cultural activist is to disseminate his thoughts widely and let those individuals find him.