Friday, November 11, 2011

Why the Public Good Is Worth the Cost -- Writer's Poke #337



At this week's Republican Presidential Candidates' debate, one candidate suggested that all government regulations that cost businesses money should be reviewed; those regulations that are found to cost businesses significant cash, and therefore, force businesses to layoff employees, should be immediately repealed.

This idea received a healthy amount of applause. It is easy to understand what regulations "cost," but it's more difficult to perceive what the "benefits" to regulations are. Sometimes it might seem as though government makes laws and passes regulations just for the fun of it, but in all seriousness, when government passes legislation, does it do so with the primary purpose of forcing businesses to layoff employees? If not, what are the purposes behind the legislation, and does the legislation successfully help ensure that businesses meet these purposes in a way that they would not otherwise?

One example might be something like the government requiring automobiles to obtain so many miles per gallon (MPG) on average. In this way, fuel efficiency for the average car goes up over time. Opponents of regulations might say, "No regulations. Let the market decide if it wants more fuel-efficient cars." But these same opponents are suggesting that such a regulation is costing the car industry too much money; so, if the "market" decided it wanted higher fuel-efficiency, wouldn't the car industry still be in the same fix? That is, to give the market what it demands, it would still need, potentially, to layoff employees to make it happen. In the meantime, it most likely would be doing nothing to increase fuel efficiency, and then when the market demand required it to do so, it would require more time to raise standards than it otherwise would if the regulations were in place for standards to gradually raise over time.

This is just one example, and maybe not the best example, granted, for why "cost" of regulations isn't the only consideration that needs to be examined. "Benefits" must be examined, too, as well as the hidden "costs" of no regulations to the overall health of the nation. Another way of looking at it, too, might be that the government is speaking for the market. That is, in the above example, people do want cars with higher fuel efficiency, which is why the government mandated for this to happen.


In theory, at least, regulations and laws are established for the public good. Eliminating regulations and laws may win quick political points, but it may do nothing to serve the real interests of the people.

People need jobs, but what else do people need if  a country is to be successful economically and otherwise?

"We should favor innovation and freedom over regulation." -- George Allen

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Misadventures of the Three-Legged Stool -- Writer's Poke #336


I suppose the charm of using “the three-legged stool” analogy is that it helps readers visualize your argument, because let’s face it: trying to keep three different concepts in your mind at the same time can be so taxing.


So, writes Arthur Allen, HPV vaccination is a good thing, but that’s only one leg of the stool. According to Arthur’s 2007 piece in the Washington Post, two other stool legs necessary for a successful vaccination program are positive public perception and appropriate government funding. Without those two “legs,” the stool won’t stand.

When creating a three-legged stool, though, don’t chair builders make one leg at a time? And don’t they attach each leg individually? In other words, even if all legs are “equally” important, one leg must be installed first.

Think about it for a second: Does it really make sense to secure funding first? Why would the government secure funding for a stool leg that hadn’t yet been built? Why would the public be more likely to support a concept than an actual program? These are just questions. My main point is this: the three legs of which Allen speaks may be required, but which leg should come first?

One must consider whether or not the analogy is appropriate to the argument, too. For example, replace “HPV vaccination” with “Slavery.” Imagine if Abe Lincoln used the following logic: 1. Slavery is a bad thing, but 2. The public supports it, and 3. The Federal Government doesn’t have the will (or ability) to outlaw it. Actually, Lincoln probably did use this logic initially, but eventually he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, and that ended slavery. Note that it was the “mandate” that was essential. In essence, slavery existed in the United States for years because people used three-legged stool logic.

Using analogies can be a good technique, and everyone can picture a three-legged stool in their minds, but what techniques can one use to determine if the analogy is appropriate to the argument being made?

“I go from stool to stool in singles bars hoping to get lucky, but there's never any gum under any of them.” – Emo Phillips




Monday, November 7, 2011

Needed: Vaccination against Bad Arguments -- Writer's Poke #335




Rick Perry has taken some heat for mandating the HPV vaccine in Texas. Why? Apparently because he had the audacity to use an Executive Order, because the Pharmaceutical Company that stood to directly benefit from the order will make a profit, and because this same Pharmaceutical Company contributed “thousands of dollars” to the governor’s campaign.


To me, critics of Perry don’t have a very strong argument. First, Executive Orders are legal and part of the governor’s power. Those who complain that the governor used his power should instead be working to amend or eliminate a governor’s ability to issue Executive Orders. Second, Texas has checks and balances like any other state. So, if the governor’s Executive Order was unconstitutional, then the issue could be settled in a court of law. Or, if the people really didn’t like the governor’s mandate, then their elected officials could certainly pass legislation to overturn it. The governor, in other words, is not a dictator, and to suggest otherwise weakens the argument against the governor’s position.

Critics also suggest that the governor is clearly in bed with Pharmaceutical Companies. This argument is rather weak, because it suggests that any person or company to contribute money to the governor should never be seen to benefit from any decision the governor makes, even if it’s the right decision for the governor to make. Journalists certainly have a duty to report potential improprieties, but they must avoid painting with a broad brush, and they must be careful to provide specific evidence that directly link the governor to corruption. As far as I can tell, critics of Perry’s HPV vaccine mandate have not been able to do either.

Finally, children are required to receive a whole host of vaccinations before they are allowed to attend school. Is this wrong? Do the companies that offer other vaccinations profit from these requirements? In other words, the HPV vaccination isn’t the first required vaccination in the history of Texas. And is it at all appropriate to insinuate a gender issues – e.g. the vaccination affects the health of girls, but the governor is male. Why does or should the governor’s gender matter? After all, he is elected by all registered voters in Texas, male and female. The people elect the governor to act on their best interests, and the governor’s duty requires him to represent the best interests even of Texas’s female population from time to time.

Do stronger arguments against mandating the HPV vaccination exist? If so, why aren't they utilized?

Should attacks on Rick Perry and other political figures by cartoonists and journalists automatically be assumed to be political motivated, or would that assumption be as faulty as cartoonists and journalists that assume Perry’s HPV vaccination decision was politically motivated?

“Vaccination is the medical sacrament corresponding to baptism. Whether it is or is not more efficacious I do not know.” – Samuel Butler