Bad Arguments

An interesting real world discussion over a recent op ed recommending Obama announce he will not seek re-election in order to foster bipartisanship.

This was less of a problem in the bad old days, when powerful gatekeepers to the opinion industry weeded out the non-mainstream viewpoints. Of course, the best and the brightest of the mainstream had some galactically stupid ideas too. I’m not suggesting we return to that world — it’s neither possible nor desirable.

When it comes to policy debates I’m always on the side of John Stuart Mill — the best way to deal with stupid arguments is to counter them with better arguments in the public sphere. That said, there’s a serious cost to this philosophy in a world in which the stupid ideas can command the policy agenda. The opportunity cost to the inordinate amount of time that is spent swatting away these ideas is that less time is spent debating policies and ideas that have a real chance of being enacted. Furthermore, sometimes the dumbass idea just goes into hibernation among a few die-hard believers until a propitious moment arises for its zombie revival.

In the end, I think Mill still carries the day. Still, every once in a while, it sure would be nice not to have to waste the energy and the attention on stupid policy ideas.

2 thoughts on “Bad Arguments

  1. julio

    I saw this when it was posted because I might be as well-informed as Mr. Phillips, and immediately became saddened because commonsense arguments like these have no place in modern debate.

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