Friday, July 24, 2015

Rational compassion

Often when I am talking with people about my profession, I will have some people who will consistently get upset with me because I usually don't get as visually riled up as other people do. I almost never scream, I almost never use the much too common authority fallacy, and more often than not am able to stay calm when discussing very difficult and important issues be it global warming, corruption, police brutality, you name it.

There is a very deliberate reason for trying to argue for something in this way. I frequently see people both in my personal life and in public life argue only from the heart, which means they are not arguing from understanding the issues at play in a way so that they can effectively make an argument that will not create unintended consequences. This is most common right now in the minimum wage debate, or talking about other worker's rights which people are (rightfully) very invested in, like I last posted about.

Even when talking about such issues I still try to stay away from arguing from emotion because than I am likely to make an argument that will not work as promised. I always get suspicious when people continue to argue for policies which have been demonstrated to not work as advertised even after the evidence becomes completely overwhelming. When I see people continue to argue from ignorance about issues it makes me think less of them and trust them less. When looking at any issue it is important to understand what will really go on.

The best example I can think of right now is when people talk about free trade. The research in political economy is essentially unanimous that free trade for poor countries helps lift people out of poverty. People who work for foreign firms make more than people who work for domestically owned firms, it brings in needed capital to the country, and this pushes real wages up, increasing the quality of living for people in the country. (In economics, Real means that the price, in this case the wage, is adjusted for inflation) Despite the overwhelming evidence of how free trade is better for workers than protectionism people still will tell me that we need to protect our workers, and the best way to do that is to close the borders. By arguing from ignorance and frequently accusing all scientific research on the subject as being part of some sinister plot they are closing their minds to what is really going on and when the evidence is against their case revert to anecdotal case studies to support their idea. The absolute ignorance of the research that has been done and downright unwillingness to do more research to defend their claims makes it the economic equivalent of creationism. Do these people mean well? They claim they do. But when people do not even try to understand arguments from another perspective and continue to support policies that hurt people it becomes very difficult to believe they really want to make the world a better place and I always then suspect some alterior motive.

This is a problem across the world too, I observe it in the media all the time where you have the talking heads, one "liberal' and one conservative who bicker and after blathering on for 5-10 minutes haven't said anything reasonable or realistic.

Because I believe irrational compassion is dangerous to the progressive movement as a whole, I try very hard to make sure I have some evidence behind my claims and that I stay planted to reality so that my proposals can actually work. Then I can have an adult conversation with people which then can open doors and increase understanding overall. Irrational compassion is incapable of this.

So, next time you are talking with someone, keep your values close to your heart but make certain you don't become removed from reality because then it takes more time to get to where we need to go in making the world a better place.

Amiti, Mary, and Donald R. Davis. "Trade, firms, and wages: Theory and evidence." The Review of economic studies 79.1 (2012): 1-36.
Irwin, Douglas A. Free trade under fire. Princeton University Press, 2015.

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