Discourse, Narrative, and the Breakdown of rational argument

Browsing my Facebook news feed, I saw this article, form “bizpacreview.com” and an organization with the terrifyingly loaded (as if there is someone to be found anywhere who is against prosperity), and highly ironic (the trickle down economics they support just hasn’t worked), name of “Americans for Prosperity.”

Here’s the article:

Watch Bill Gates school MSNBC’s Mika on minimum wage; she didn’t like his non-liberal answer

January 22, 2014 by Michele Kirk 71 Comments

Like most MSNBC personalities, Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski feels no need to be subtle when pushing her liberal thoughts on the public. It works out well since the public can’t talk back to her.

Brzezinski found out Tuesday what happens when you have a business-savvy billionaire on as a guest and you ask him about raising the minimum wage.

Not everyone’s drinking the Kool-Aid on the $15 hamburger. And Bill Gates can obviously do the math on this issue.

Brzezinski did her best to load the question in favor of a typical liberal response:

“What do you think about the minimum wage? Should it be raised? And should we want to see models more like Costco – where companies pay their employees a lot more than the minimum wage?”

Microsoft’s co-founder wasn’t biting on that apple.

“Well, jobs are a great thing. You have to be a bit careful that if you raise the minimum wage, you’re encouraging labor substitution. You’re going to go buying machines and automate things — or cause jobs to appear outside of that jurisdiction. And so within certain limits, you know, it does cause job destruction. But, if you really start pushing it, then you’re just making a huge trade-off.”

After shutting down Brzezinski’s feeble attempt at arguing with him, Gates mercifully wiped the confused look off her face by saying, “these are complex issues. It’s not as simple as saying ‘OK just raise the wage’ and all of a sudden . . .”

Nice try, Mika. I hope you were paying attention. Watch out for those “complex issues.

First I want to discuss the caliber of the argument of the writer, then I want to discuss the actual subject of minimum wage.

Something that always strikes me about argument is that there are so many levels to be found in it. Theory, practice, and pure emotional rhetoric. The simple truth is that if you want to convince the public, one has to quickly catch emotions. We could argue economic theory over the minimum wage for literally the rest of our lives, but of course, doing your homework about economic theory never won anyone an election, much less an online opinion poll.

We as a public need to recognize the above article as pure propaganda, pure rhetoric. The simple fact that its loaded with emotive language renders valueless any content of fact that there may be in the article. Telling a story; repeating a political narrative is what politics has become. There are several narratives here that conservatives use over and over again. 1) liberal media conspiracy, and 2) down-to-earth businessman setting record strait.

Briefly, there is no liberal media. If you really were a hard-nosed, down-to-earth businessman, you would immediacy recognize that media is lowest-common denominator, and literally only tries grab the emotions of the most number of people. The media are largely owned by huge corporate structures that expect 20% profit and have no interest in the news requirements of a democratic society. Liberals themselves very frequently have disagreements with what is in the news. Further, the media is so sensitive to claims about bias that they have completely given up any sort of actual journalism, and merely report the he-said, she-said of politics. The result is our Republican Congress and the shut-downs.

The host’s question about minimum wage is hardly liberal at all; its a decent question, and it worries me that we are at appoint in our society where such questions are seen as corrosively liberal. It’s a weakness in conservative thought and opinion that any suggestion of change is treated as bad. One gets the sense that any raise in the minimum wage amounts to hard-core Stalinism.  Conservatives would make their beliefs palatable, and their arguments rational by a modicum of compromise, a willingness to work through a problem, instead of the big “No” of contemporary Republicans.

As widely successful as Bill Gates may be, he never the less repeats canned economic arguments against minimum wage. It’s not really the John Wayne moment of setting the record strait that the above article makes it out to be. It’s not even an argument. No way a talk show host has any interest or incentive for engaging in economic debates on TV.

Briefly, what about minimum wage? Are we convinced by Gates’ platitude about labour substitution and mechanization? Really, there is a clash of vision here, ultimately about what we want from the economy. I don’t deny that in the conservative/Gates graph of labor supply and demand that we learned in high school does indeed indicate that demand for labor will go down. And that’s bad. I think that is a very one-step argument. It’s not wrong, its just limited and simplistic. And I am suspicious of arguments that are simple.

The flip side is that over 30 million Americans work for minimum wage. This means that minimum wage is no longer for high schoolers worked over the summer. The average of a McDonald employee is something like 28 years old. If you think the minimum wage is high enough, you simply have not experienced life on minimum wage. Trickle down economic’s basic claim is that the wealthy and the large corporations generate the wealth, that eventually trickle down to the rest of us. This thinking has been in ascendency for over thirty years, and we have nothing to show for it but massively increasing inequality, unemployment, and a financial system that seems to be as good as laying people off as any minimum wage hike could possibly be. I don’t deny that trickle down economics is a factor in the economy. But why is everyone else  excluded? Isn’t a healthy economy the one where everyone has purchasing power? Should not every economic class be generating wealth? Should not we value the lives of real people over McDonald’s profit margin? I will close by recommending that people do not go to television for their economic understand. I personally recommend a book on steady state economics.





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