Arnold Kling  

Toward Better Debate

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I suggest

political debate would be more enlightening if we asked proponents to focus on their assumptions. When you say that your policy proposal would be an improvement, what are the key assumptions behind that statement?

For example, suppose that someone proposes that health insurance should be made mandatory. Below are a set of assumptions that might be consistent with such a policy. In parentheses, I give a score that indicates my degree of belief in the assumption. The scale goes from 1 to 5, where 5 means that I strongly accept the assumption, and 1 means that I am highly skeptical of the assumption.

--People who do not buy health insurance will nonetheless obtain medical treatment. (5)

--When the uninsured are treated, the cost of their care necessarily falls on someone else. (2)


Think of a proposal that you have on policy. Try to put together the chain of assumptions that support your proposal. Imagine having other people go through the same exercise with their proposals.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Bruce G Charlton writes:

I recently went to a meeting with a senior UK politician, and the interesting thing was that the *assumptions* were quite widely shared both by the minister and advisers; but the *feasability* of any given change was not.

Even apparently modest and straightforward policy changes (eg. allowing UK universities to charge whatever tuition fees they wanted-to) were regarded as politically impossible - almost utopian. This even applied when all that was being proposed was undoing a relatuvely recently-implemented policy (like abolishing a recently formed regulatory body).

Presuming that politicians are correct about these feasibility matters (certainly they know a great deal more about it than I do) - it seems to support the general stance of libertarians on government policy: the impossibility of rational policy, of fine-tuning policy, of restructuring to improve efficiency etc.

And the situation conflicted with the centre-left policy-wonk perspective.

My point is that - to my surprise - there were significant differences concerning policy even among people who agreed on their assumptions; and these differences related to judgements of feasability.

Biomed Tim writes:

How will this be realized? I argue that one of the problems lies in the fact that we have journalists and newscasters moderating debates. What if we had rhetoric PhDs or philosophy PhDs moderating debates instead?

Actually they don't even have to be PhDs. Just people are are well trained in deciphering arguments (premise, conclusion, assumptions, fallacies...) and do a good job of pointing that out to the general public.

Harry writes:

In other words, Tim, moderators with well developed crap detectors and a good understanding of numbers? How about having them moderated by accountants? (gratuitous self serving suggestion)

Biomed Tim writes:

"How about having them moderated by accountants?"

Haha. That will be great too. Notice I didn't suggest "economists." I'll let you all recall the economist/accountant joke.

Matt writes:

I would like to see the candidates put together their advisory team early, their experts. Then let their experts go out in the internet blogs and defend new policy and direction.

R.G.McFadden writes:

Or, as Ayn Rand used to say

Check your premises!

Grayson writes:

Just out of curiosity (I'm tired so not thinking clearly), why wouldn't the costs fall on someone else if not paid by the user?

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