David R. Henderson  

Why Don't You Say Things You Don't Believe?

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Old classical macro plus reall... Again on intellectuals and cap...

I had an interesting back and forth with a commenter on my previous post, "Giving Thanks." I could have proceeded further in the comments but his style of argument is important enough and widespread enough that I've decided to post about it in a separate post.

Here's the part of his recent comment that I want to respond to:

When I say individual wealth I am speaking of the explosion of wealth in the top 1 percent of Americans. The control they exert over corporations and the government has led to some extraordinarily bad results. The ability to break the historical bond between productivity and wage grow [sic] which has lead to a thirty year stagnation in real median income leading to an explosion of household debt as people try and maintain the illusion of continuing prosperity. The ability of corporations to force all legal recourse into binding arbitration with the resulting effect of eliminating any control over bad behavior. I could go on but I am interested in your willingness to ignore these effects.

It's his last statement that is the key. The commenter, Chris Wegener, claims that I am willing "to ignore these effects."

What possibility has he left out? The possibility that I don't believe that some of the things he claims to be true are true. I could get into the specifics here, but those who read this blog closely know some of the specifics. One is that real median income has not stagnated.

So if I don't believe them, it's hard to justify the claim that I'm ignoring them.

Because discussions of these issues can get heated, I'll take a less-controversial example. Imagine that my wife and I go to a play and my wife wears nice dress pants. I run into someone later who heard that my wife wore blue jeans. He says to me, "I'm interested in your willingness to ignore the fact that she wore blue jeans." Of course, I'm not ignoring it: I think she wore dress pants.


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CATEGORIES: Economic Methods




COMMENTS (11 to date)
Don Boudreaux writes:

David: Nice response.

I direct Mr. Wegener to Steve Landsburg's recent Hayek Lecture at the I.E.A. for evidence that the wages of ordinary Americans has not stagnated in recent decades.

And I direct him - with some vanity - to my and Liya Palagashvili's piece from a few years ago, in the Wall Street Journal, for evidence that the link between worker productivity and worker pay has in fact not been severed.

[typo fixed by commenter request--Econlib Ed.]

Don Boudreaux writes:

Mr. Wegener might wish to consult this data-rich study, co-authored by my GMU colleague Todd Zywicki, that casts doubt on the popular claim that ordinary Americans are today surviving only by taking out unprecedented amounts of household debt.

Niklas Blanchard writes:

It seems to me that the commenter has confused "wealth" and "income", as a matter of how he has framed the argument. This is a common confusion, and one I've commented on ad nauseam.

It is not novel that "wealth" has a strong Pareto distribution. All modes of creative production feature a vicious Pareto distribution that is nigh impossible to address via public policy (without becoming immediately authoritarian).

Don Boudreaux writes:

There's a signifiant mistake in my first comment. The second sentence should read:

I direct Mr. Wegener to Steve Landsburg's recent Hayek Lecture at the I.E.A. for evidence that the wages of ordinary Americans have not stagnated in recent decades.

[The typo in the original comment has been fixed--Econlib Ed.]

Peter Gerdes writes:

You are taking the commenter's statement too literally.

When he says "willingness to ignore these effects" he clearly doesn't mean you believe these effects are real and pretend not to. Rather, he means that you persist in thinking these effects are not real despite being aware of evidence that should be more than enough to convince you they are indeed present.

For instance, if I say to an anti-vaxer "I don't understand your willingness to ignore the fact that vaccines don't cause autism" I obviously don't mean that I don't think they genuinely believe that vaccines cause autism. Rather, I am accusing them of ignoring the compelling evidence that should convince them of this fact because they don't like what it says.

I don't agree with this commentator that you are ignoring such evidence but I do think that is what he is accusing you of doing.

Kevin Erdmann writes:

J.W. Mason has a nice working paper debunking the myth that working class households are borrowing to consume. It's the second link in this post.

David R Henderson writes:

@Peter Gerdes,
You are taking the commenter's statement too literally.
I sometimes do that.
When he says "willingness to ignore these effects" he clearly doesn't mean you believe these effects are real and pretend not to. Rather, he means that you persist in thinking these effects are not real despite being aware of evidence that should be more than enough to convince you they are indeed present.
That’s a reasonable interpretation. I wonder if that’s what he means. Maybe Chris will weigh in and tell us if this is what he means.
By the way, even if it was what he means, accurate statements are important. So he should say what he means.

Michael Stack writes:

Personally I don't care for statements like, "your willingness to ignore such effects". It often assumes bad intent as a starting point for an argument, which isn't very productive.

Of course in this case, the writer may have had something else in mind, but at a minimum, the phrasing is poor.

Mark Bahner writes:
When I say individual wealth I am speaking of the explosion of wealth in the top 1 percent of Americans. The control they exert over corporations and the government has led to some extraordinarily bad results.

Here are some Americans whose wealth has really exploded:

Jeff Bezos
Mark Zuckerberg
Charles and David Koch
Michael Bloomberg
Larry Page and Sergey Brin

All those guys exert tremendous control over their corporations because they founded those corporations. And they and their corporations have money because they provide some product/service that people want. (It's not like anyone is forced to use Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc.)

As far as control over government, I think only Charles and David Koch are Republicans, and I don't think either is really happy with what's happening in the Trump part of their party. (Two amusing anecdotal pieces of information: According to Forbes, Michael Bloomberg has "donated more than $4 billion to gun control, climate change, and other causes." And of course David Koch ran as the Libertarian VP candidate in 1980, with the ticket garnering a whopping 1 percent of the vote.)

Of course, that's like the top 0.000001 percent, rather than the top 1 percent.

Believe and Obey writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

LD Bottorff writes:

One thing I have never understood; How is it that the powerful capitalists allow NEW guys like Mark Zuckerburg, Larry Page, or Jeff Bezos to disrupt the established order and get rich? I mean, if all they did was get rich, it would be OK, but they disrupt the very foundations of the established order.

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