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Opening Arguments

Moral imperative

Those on the right may have the better arguments, but that doesn't always make them winning arguments.  There is a moral case for free enterprise, for example, and that case has to be made before all the facts and figures are thrown around:

The dinner conversation will turn to politics and the economy, and it will be your job to stick up for capitalism and free markets.

You’ll say something intelligent about how it was never markets that caused all the pain in this country over the past four years, but rather the growing government and corporate cronies who gamed the system. Maybe you’ll throw in some facts about how realfree enterprise rewards entrepreneurs--the only true job creators—and how current leaders are actively hurting them with needless regulation and punitive, uncertain taxation. For color, you might throw in the fact that the U.S. corporate tax rate is now the highest in the OECD countries.

And then your liberal sister-in-law will stare at you. “You want to cut taxes for millionaires while working families lose their homes.” she’ll say. “I saw a little girl living in her car yesterday. That’s what free enterprise looks like.”

Guess what? You just lost the argument. It doesn’t matter that you had facts and all she had was a lame platitude and an anecdote. Everybody at the table is instantly on your sister-in-law’s side, and they can’t figure out how you turned out to be such a heartless guy.

What just happened?

The answer is that she captured the brain circuitry of everyone around the table by countering your material argument with a moral one. There is a growing body of research on this subject by scholars such as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia. Haidt’s research shows that when people are confronted with an emotionally evocative situation, they make a lightening-fast moral judgment. You are unlikely to persuade them based on logic and data that their initial moral judgment was wrong.

Paul Ryan has been making that kind of moral argument about government spending to answer those who start screaming about throwing Grandma off the cliff every time some modest cut is proposed.

Conservatives should refuse to cede the compassion argument to the left. There is more to caring than pumping an ever-increasing share of taxpayer dollars into programs that do virtually nothing to lift people out of poverty. And there is certainly nothing compassionate about standing idly on the sidelines while these programs bankrupt the federal government.

Too often, those who keep promoting futile programs get the benefit of the doubt from those who have made instant moral judgments because they get credit for mere good intentions. They don't have to live up to those intentions by providing evidence that the programs actually deliver what was promised.


Tue, 05/08/2012 - 2:53pm

The "I saw a little girl living in her car yesterday. That's what free enterprise looks like" agument is best answered by  Milton Friedman.

Friedman would respond that she is living in a car because free enterprise has been stifled by government regulation and taxes. Truly free enterprise has the greatest likelihood of creating the wealth that is needed to get her out of the car and into a home.

Therefore, the real cause of car dwelling is not free enterprise- which has created more wealth for more people over a shorter period of time than any other system.

The real cause of her current poverty is the government  and government  will impoverish her future with massive debt.

Her  only salvation is to create wealth through free enterprise.


Tim Zank
Tue, 05/08/2012 - 2:59pm

Well said Rebecca.

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 3:28pm

The best way to control people is by making them feel guilty about something.

I hear Morris Albert singing "Feelings" everytime.

The best way to confront this is by not feeling guilty about something you rationally shouldn't.

A counter punch to the liberal sister-in-law wanting you to feel guilty about a little girl living in a car while working families are losing their jobs and millionaires pay less is this.  Stare back at the sister-in-law and ask her why she didn't invite the little girl and family to move into her own home.

Guilt works both ways.

Christopher Swing
Wed, 05/09/2012 - 3:46pm

I don't know what is more amusing/sad;


Still using Breitbart as a source of anything?

The laughable presentation of the little girl strawman?

The even more laughable idea that the right's case isn't a lie to begin with?


Really, nobody with half a brain believes that "highest corporate tax rate" sham, because they also know it doesn't matter what that rate is if corporations aren't paying it. Just ask Apple about it, for the most recent embarrasing example.

And how exactly are taxes hurting corporations in light of the corporate socialism we now operate under? Indiana is second in the nation for taxes that are diverted from employees straight to their employers.

The problem isn't guilt. It's that the people who need to feel it most apparently aren't capable of it.

Wed, 05/09/2012 - 6:46pm

To "The Cap'n" :  Those "diverted" funds will be spent much more productively by the corporations than by any state government.

Christopher Swing
Thu, 05/10/2012 - 12:36am

So socialism and taxes are horrible - unless they're for the benefit of corporations.

At least you're honest about your double standard.