Monday, July 16, 2012

David Brooks and the Least Helpful Advice Ever

One of the best sources of fallacies is political op-eds, and no one is better at generating fallacy ridden nonsense than David Brooks of the New York Times. As a case in point, see this recent editorial on growing income inequality in America.

To be fair, much of Brook's analysis in the beginning of the column concerning widening income inequality in the US and its impact on children is fairly spot-on. It is just a fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and this is a trend that began in the 80's and has basically continued unabated to the present. Furthermore, growing income inequality is clearly damaging to lower income children. But what is the source of this problem? According to Brooks, the source of this growing inequality is:
A long series of cultural, economic and social trends have merged to create this sad state of affairs. Traditional social norms were abandoned, meaning more children are born out of wedlock. Their single parents simply have less time and resources to prepare them for a more competitive world. Working-class jobs were decimated, meaning that many parents are too stressed to have the energy, time or money to devote to their children. 
That is, income inequality is a product of single-parent families and the loss of decent working class jobs.  Now we can debate the accuracy of this diagnosis, but that is not what I want to focus on here. In general I prefer to stay away from questions of fact, and instead focus on argumentative errors.

The problem with Brook's editorial arises in his recommendation of how to deal with this problem:
Liberals are going to have to be willing to champion norms that say marriage should come before childrearing and be morally tough about it. Conservatives are going to have to be willing to accept tax increases or benefit cuts so that more can be spent on the earned-income tax credit and other programs that benefit the working class.
According to Brooks, income inequality is caused in part by a loss of decent working-class jobs, but his solution makes no mention of providing more decent working-class jobs (say by raising the minimum wage, or requiring employers to hire a certain percentage of full-time employees instead of allowing them to hire all part-timers.). Instead, he argues that income inequality can be solved by more people getting married and by spending more money on programs that benefit the working poor. This is a good example of Inconsistency. Inconsistency is a fallacy that arises when there is a mismatch between the premises and the conclusion or when one premise contradicts another. In the case of Brooks' analysis, we see a conflict between his diagnosis of the problem and his solution to it. That is, even if we were to pursue the solution Brooks recommends, this still wouldn't solve what he earlier argued is one of the major sources of the problem in the first place!

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